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

Lola: An Ode to Women and to Life

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By Gigi Javier Alfonso

Lola is an outstanding film by Briliante Mendoza with screenplay by Linda Casimiro. It captures the beat of a neighborhood in the Philippines, a common place, with its share of grime and crime. It is also about a resilient, strong, tenacious, giving, and loving people. Lola is a film that wants to be honest. From natural everyday dialogue, actors sans makeup, almost untouched production design and un-manicured cinematography. These decisions are decided by a masterful director.

Lola is about two women Puring (Rustica Carpio) and Sepa (Anita Linda) who have to face their day-to-day lives after they become involved in the aftermath of their grandsons’ crime and death. One of the grandsons is the crime victim and the other is in prison—the murder suspect. As they go through their everyday lives, we see them in their everyday struggle, driven with admirable tenacity. The two grandparents show their uncompromising love for their grandsons. They are not helpless old women who simply complain, gripe and blame the world for their misfortune. They are feisty, tough, and bounce back to make sure that they face the world and the challenges that it brings.

As we put ourselves in the shoes of our main protagonists, we see there is that selfless love making sure that they raise money for their respective grandsons. We see Lola Sepa doing everything to make sure that she gives her grandson Arnold Quimpo a decent burial and we see Lola Puring wanting to try all to free her grandson Mateo Burgos who is in jail for allegedly killing Lola Sepa’s grandson.

Director Mendoza sensitively captures the almost chaotic rush of the two women to pool some funds together, always unsuccessful…we see them all wet and weary in the middle of the rains and typhoon. We see them as they seek the help of friends, neighbors, politicians in local government and the lending establishments. But we don’t see them helpless and hopeless when they are turned down. We see them just move on to their next step. Brilliant cinematography! It captures the essence of the narrative. The seemingly simple life is almost replicated … certainly not simple… the texture is extracted, the scale of values and understated hues together with its nuances are traced, and more importantly the shadows are registered.

It starts with long takes focusing on the journey and long climb of Lola Sepa in unfriendly climate and harsh urban setting. As the camera follows Lola Sepa in her arranging the details of her grandson’s funeral as she listens to the standard lines of the funeral parlor manager, the editing allows for the seamless shift from scene to scene, and from story to story as it shows the parallel lives of the two grandmothers. The narrative moves on as Lola Puring is summoned to court as a respondent being the guardian of Mateo Burgos (Ketchup Eusebio) locked in an overcrowded prison. She arrives in court, looks for a way to get a lawyer pro bono but is told to just settle the case outside the courts. She tries to assure her grandson Mateo that there is hope for his release. She pawns her television set to the ire of another grandson (Jhong Hilario) who complicates decisions of raising money for buying the freedom of Mateo.

Lola Puring goes through selling everything that she could, from vegetables, eggs and ducks… doing all that has to be done to gain the goodwill of the bereaved Lola Sepa and her family. Lola Sepa with the loving and understanding help of her daughter (Tanya Gomez) tirelessly readies her family to grieve for her grandson, selecting a decent coffin and arranging all the details in exchange for her life savings and her property. Here is a film about, the system of justice, the criminality and harsh living conditions as part of the environment. It is about a people marked by heartbreaking struggles through time as shown in the wrinkled faces of Lola Sepa and Lola Puring. They are pictured as women who continue on solving their day-to-day problems with ingenuity, perseverance and resilience. There is no doubt in their minds that there will be solutions to their problems what with their strong resolve that all will be all right.

When the two women understand each other and close their episode with no bitterness and vengeance, we see the understated hues at the start turn to brilliant colors as the coffin of Arnold Quimpo, the grandson of Lola Sepa parades through the waters of the town. This pictures the dignity and love that we often forget exist in places of hardship and poverty. Kudos to Director Brilliante Mendoza for creating such an important work!

This film aside from being a director’s film is undoubtedly an Anita Linda and Rustica Carpio film as well. They become the well-developed characters, portraying them in completely three-dimensional acting mode. These two respected actors of the big screen are so successful in delineating their grandmother roles showing that women regardless of age make lives complete and worth living.