The Lows of Brillante Mendoza’s Lola


At the recent 15th French Film Festival screened at the Shangri-la Cineplex, Brillante Mendoza’s award-wining full-length movie ‘Lola’ (grandma) was one of the highlights. This is Mendoza’s obra after his “Kinatay”, which earned him a Cannes’ best director award.

Speaking in front of an audience who lined up for three hours to see his film before the screening, Mendoza started with what seemed to be a toast of things to come, figuratively and otherwise by pronouncing his title as “low-la”, perhaps for the four or five foreigners in the audience.

Lola is a movie about two grandmothers, both poverty-stricken, both struggling to survive suddenly intertwined in a crime involving their grandsons.

The movie opens with one of its two lolas, played by screen legend Anita Linda, lighting a candle while a strong wind was blowing. Apparently, she was lighting the candle for a grandson who was killed a day before.

Low # 1: Tiring, Stretched Images

Mendoza has the eyes for strong, powerful images- the Quiapo bridge shot from an angle not so familiar suddenly became someplace else until the more familiar angle of the bridge is shown, strong heavy rains at dusk as a backdrop of many scenes, people sailing boats in the flood toward their shanties, the stinking streets and corners of Manila. The problem is, Mendoza repeatedly use these kind of images too much such that from being metaphorical, mystique, and even magical – as he intends it to be – it reached a point of becoming annoying and numbing.

Or perhaps, yes, he wants to present them as literal as could be and he achieved that. It did not help that a lot of scenes were overly stretched, alienating the audience who tend to feel stupid because of such device. This is also true for many scenes he used to underscore how society can make things worse for people who are suffering because of poverty. Instead of underscoring poverty, these scenes tire the audience and again make them feel stupid.

For many though, these scenes are powerful eye-openers, especially for those who don’t really get to see poverty in the movies all the time.

However, in the hands of a more subtle, subdued and sensitive auteur, two powerful scenes will do it, especially that the locale is the Manila slums. How can you get any poorer than that?

Moreover, for all his penchant for good images that, again, were rather annoying, Mendoza cheats the audience by his geographical inconsistencies which, for the sake of not spoiling the viewing pleasure of those who would still see the movie, should be left to the audience to discover. It should be reiterated though that this is quite insulting for the residents of Manila.

Low #2: The Absence of a Good Script

Let’s go to the heart of the movie- the story. Probably, Mendoza’s goal was simple: to show how far grandmothers can go for their grandchildren regardless of their predicaments. Anita Linda’s fights for a murdered grandson amid old age, storms and flood while the other lola, played by another luminary Rustica Carpio, lies, steals and will do everything, despite old age, storms, and an ailing husband, for her grandson whose own reasons and motives are questionable.

At first glance, one would say, of course, they are just being “lolas” and all lolas do that.

Not if you are watching this film. Anita Linda braves storms and flood to see to it that justice is served for her grandson while her other grandchild, the victim’s sister who is young and strong actually almost does nothing about it. The other lola does the same to her grandson but when they met, there was just no established or credible sense of closeness while she disregards her other grandson who helps her in her livelihood every single day.

When Mendoza spoke before the screening, he introduced a woman as the scriptwriter of the movie. After the screening, one would doubt if there was really a script for the movie. Maybe, what they had was a storyline and being an independent film, that was enough.

But it was crucial for this movie. The absence of a good script was revealed very early on in the movie when the first lines delivered were not natural to the locale. It also did not help that the main protagonists are too old to deliver their lines clearly, which resulted to an obvious improvisation that did not also help. One crucial moment of failed improvisation was when finally, the two lolas are face to face with each other. What could have been a powerful dramatic scene became just a scene, with the characters delivering lines bereft of power and impact.

On a positive note, Mendoza showed the camaraderie among the community where the main characters live. When they needed help, their neighbors were always willing to help despite of their own poverty-stricken lives.

There was also no “big finish” for this film. It closes as quietly as it opens. This is something that can make the audience feel hollow after leaving the cinema. It can be something like just watching a crime and not being able to do anything about it. Perhaps, it can also be viewed as powerful as real life- crimes happen and a lot of times, we cannot really do something about it. Furthermore, this maybe what Mendoza wants to do- show us the crime, and we do something about it, not him.

Low #3: Underutilized Actors

On the other hand, one good aspect about this movie is its supporting cast. It has good actors like Tanya Gomez, Jhong Hilario and Jojit Lorenzo. Sadly, their characters are too thin and they were plainly underutilized. They were not given a bigger room to showcase their certainly good acting skills. And that should take us back to the question of script.

Brillante Mendoza is definitely one of the most celebrated local directors of recent years, having produced films that have received worldwide recognition. In fact, he is the first Filipino director who has received a best director award from the world’s most prestigious, Cannes Film Festival for the movie “Kinatay.”

However, like his other movies that deal with social realities (Serbis, Masahista), Lola leaves the audience insulted.

Now, is it worth watching? Yes, it is. We cannot deny the fact that very few directors make such films nowadays. We miss the likes of Mario O’Hara, Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal.

Secondly, as Filipinos, we have to be aware of the kind of movies that represent us in the world and perhaps can agitate us to challenge more directors to create films that truly mirror the Filipino people’s lives and aspirations.

Lastly, because this is just an opinion by a Pinoy viewer who pronounces the movie title “lola” and not low-la. (

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  1. I appreciate a review coming from a Filipino audience. Like you, I also am a Filipino and watched this movie. However, I did not get the sense of stupidity out of my experience. I know that the scenes may seem long and repetitive, but they did in fact mirror the reality of the situation. Living in less affluent areas, the long walks, the rain, etc, gave me such a wonder as to how the characters maneuvered through their daily lives. I personally believe that when those scenes become dull, numbing and boring to an audience, then the movie proves its point. Poverty life as expressed by the movie is tenuous, back-breaking, dirty, exhausting, numbing and repetitive – just like the long walks in the alley.

    Also, I saw a lot of heart in the film. One particular scene that touched my heart was the one in which the funeral suddenly became a frenzy to catch the catfish in house. That showed the Filipino mentality towards hardships that face us. We never seize to enjoy moments even in our deepest despair.

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