The society of respected film critics that hands out the annual Gawad Urian in cinematic excellence

Lola: Young mortality, old morality

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By Lito Zulueta

“LOLA,” the surprise competition entry in the 2009 Venice Film Festival, comes off as a surprise for its humanity and poignancy, qualities that one does not exactly associate with the movies of Brillante Mendoza except perhaps for “Foster Child” (2007). But like most of Mendoza’s movies, the humanity does not come on a silver platter, and the poignancy is characterized by a certain realism that renders the feeling painfully gnawing rather than blissfully comforting.

Lola Sepa (Anita Linda) goes to the place where her grandson has been killed by a cell phone snatcher, in order to light a candle for the repose of his soul. Amid rain, she goes to the police precinct to follow up on her son’s case and learns that the police have captured the suspect (Ketchup Eusebio), who turns out to be the grandson of Lola Puring (Rustica Carpio), a street hawker. Sepa is zealous of seeing justice for her late grandson, but Puring is equally protective of hers. She slowly but steadily woos Sepa and raises the settlement money to let her grandson off the hook. In the end, the two grandmothers settle out of court and find a reconciliation of sorts in answering to their respective filial duties.

One may be turned off by Puring’s less than pure intention to flatter and entice Sepa out of her avenging mood, and Sepa’s surrender when confronted with the lure of money. One may also be repelled by Puring’s opportunism and her naked attempt to con her customers and even friends in order to raise the blood money. But both in the end settle accounts, if a tad too expediently, and go their separate ways, two wizened grandmothers whose only sin is to be devoted to their grandchildren. Anita Linda and Rustica Carpio as the eightysomething grandmothers deliver searingly heartbreaking performances that never degenerate into melodrama. Theirs are a career-defining performance.

As always, Mendoza, a veteran art director, achieves a perfect melding between locale, sociology and psychology. He shot Lola Sepa and her kin’s funeral in a flooded area in Malabon and the sight of the funeral regatta amid twilight looks like Venice amid the play of lights, a romantic counterpoint to the death and depression around. The other scenes are as irresistibly set up and delineated, showing again and again the singular Brillante Mendoza aesthetic: a healing of social conscience and powerful iconography.