Pinoy Indie Sundays: Lola is Everybody’s Grandma

I’m reviving this blog and bringing back Pinoy Indie Sundays in the hopes that at least a few Pinoys get to read what I think about our own indie films that does not aim to break box office records but instead break that wool we have over our eyes and see out society in a whole new light.

The Story:

An elderly woman and a boy buy a candle, passes by the church to offer a brief prayer then walks to dirty, vandalized walkway to light the candle amidst rising storm winds. Playing children ask the boy what they’re doing and he replies, “My uncle was stabbed here yesterday.”

Thus begins the story of Brilliante Ma. Mendoza’s film, Lola (Grandmothers). The movie begins by following the white haired grandmother, Lola Sepa, played by veteran actress, Anita Linda as she offers prayers for her fallen grandson. She wanders around the city, looking for financial help from her grandson’s employers and following up the case at the police station. At the station, the camera leaves her to introduce a new character, another grandmother, Lola Puring played by Rustica Carpio. This lola wants to visit her grandson, Mateo Burgos, the suspect in the robbery-homicide of Lola Sepa’s beloved grandson.

The two grandmother’s are the matriarchs leading the two families through life where poverty is a constant companion. They move heaven and earth to make sure that each member of the family is cared for and had what they need. While Lola Sepa is willing to lower her pride and result to begging to finance a decent funeral for her grandson; Lola Puring will sacrifice her morals and result to lying and cheating to get enough money to buy her grandson out of jail.

The Review:

Brilliante Ma. Mendoza’s films for me are hits and misses. But I think Lola is definitely a hit. There could be a thousand lolas in this situation or something similar today in the Philippines. This film definitely captures the heart of a lola who only wants the best for her family.

In the Philippines, your lola or grandmother is everyone’s grandmother. Unlike in developed countries where lolos and lolas are placed into homes of the aged, in the Philippines, they stay at home and are cared for by their sons and daughters and the grandchildren. In a lot of cases where the family is living in abject poverty, the lola will work until her last dying breath to provide for her family.

In an interview with CineEuropa.org , Brilliante Ma. Mendoza explains how the story of Lola came about. He saw two different news reports; each featuring a lola asking for help for their respective grandsons. The story integrated the two lolas in one unfortunate situation and how they would resolve the conflict that leaves both families intact. Mendoza shot the film in 11 days on a limited budget which explains the shaky camera and not so brilliant cinematography. He took advantage of the country’s rainy season to add the authentic atmosphere of gloom on each scene.

In Lola Sepa’s residence, a foreigner might mistake the village for a Venice-like setting because of the flood. However, there is nothing deliberate about the flooding. The people just learned to deal and adapt to their woeful environment by traveling in bangkas or boats. It’s a logistical nightmare especially when you have to transport a coffin to Lola Sepa’s rickety house for a proper Filipino wake.

Each scene is authentic in showcasing what poor Filipinos have to go through to survive everyday life. From Lola Puring’s illegal vending of vegetables, to Lola Sepa’s pawning of her ATM (pension), life in the Philippines is indeed hard enough without unforeseen tragedies like the killing of a loved one added to the mix. But  the gem of the film are the lolas themselves serving as the beacon of hope for the family. As long as lola is there, there’s nothing to worry about.

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