Philippine filmmaker Brillante Mendoza has come up with his most humane, ethically resonant film yet with a story of two grandmothers dealing with the consequences of a murder. This compassionate study, which deals with the way justice is a relative concept in a world of abject poverty, almost acts as a response to those who accused his recent Cannes competition entry Kinatay. 

Mendoza’s style is so allergic to exposition that it takes a while for the story to take a grip – but in the end, this reticent, unforced approach makes the drama all the more affecting. We see Lola Sepa (Linda) – ‘Lola’ means ‘grandmother’ in Tagalog – trying to light a candle in a high monsoon wind for her grandson, who was killed in the street while defending himself against a cellphone robber.

After a while another old lady enters the scene: Lola Puring (Carpio), the grandmother of Mateo, the youth who has been arrested on suspicion of murdering Lola Sepa’s grandson. Here a gradual shift or rather balancing of sympathies begins as Lola Puring, who scrapes a living from her family’s street fruit and vegetable stall, sets out on her own quest to raise the money for the cash gift that is required for the family of the dead man to drop charges. The film’s compassionate eye and support of community values is matched by an almost romantic spin in certain scenes, like the floating night-time funeral procession with its flotilla of little boats.

Lee Marshall,
Screen International