Brillante Mendoza

Brillante Mendoza

Brillante Mendoza burst into the global film scene a mere decade ago, armed with a singular personality and the piercing gaze of some otherworldly being seeing things for the first time. Born in the Philippines in 1960, he worked for 20 years as a production designer and art director, carrying on his back the weight of the voices and whispers of tradition. The prodigious accumulation of characters, places, objects, forces of nature, emotions, and traditions that populate his films reveal him to be a insightful and compassionate observer of daily life, aware of his place in the universe and gifted with the tools that an artist needs to make something comprehensible – and beautiful – out of what others would see as a senseless buildup of chaos.

Mendoza shook the Locarno Festival with his directorial debut, Masahista (2005), and has received countless awards and recognitions ever since. His films are the products of cinematographic traditions that stem from realism (neo-realism, cinéma vérité), which he uses as an attitude towards life and artistic representation. Even though they may branch out, his films seem to be invented as they go, unfolding before our eyes with miraculous spontaneity. It is as if life, in all its breadth and complexity, emerged directly from his wandering, inquisitive camera, capable of piercing through the layers of reality until we believe that the world he filmed was there since the beginning, waiting to be revealed in his films.

Although Mendoza is commonly associated with urban landscapes and the organic twists and turns of city life, some of his films, such as Kaleldo (2006), Manoro (2006), or Sinapupunan (2012), show an intimate relation with nature and its forces, and an almost pantheist vision of the universe. He clearly feels a deep bond with the history, culture, and geography of the Philippines, those islands endlessly repeating themselves and proliferating, those baroque worlds that react to nature*@@*s permanent siege by accumulating, piling up, and squeezing themselves together.

Private bedrooms and warm, individualistic intérieurs of the bourgeoisie are absolutely foreign to Mendoza*@@*s worldview. In his films, the lives of his characters unfold and gain meaning within the magma of community life: a gay massage parlor in Masahista, a theater turned brothel in Serbis (2008), or the familiar environments of films like Lola (2009), Sinapupunan, or Kaleldo, where the fantasy of the western nuclear family is corrected and amplified so that it can host a multiplicity of different bonds. An untrained eye might see these things as misery, filth, promiscuity, or disarray. It is precisely these ideological representations of poverty and the media*@@*s vampirism towards squalor that Mendoza calls into question. In films like Lola, for example, his film crew captures the exceptional ethnography of poverty with a normalizing gaze that is only capable of recording isolated incidents and emotionally and politically manipulative images, but not complete universes that explain the general context in which many forms of life are legitimate.

Mendoza*@@*s films are of exceptional political clarity and place tension on the acquired ideas of normalcy, abnormality, tradition, and transgression. This is why he is fully aware of his resources and able to go beyond @**@acceptable@**@ images by fearlessly showing all the possible nuances of sexuality and violence, going as far as to provoke feelings of revulsion in the mainstream viewer, as was the case with Kinatay (2009). But unlike so many cheap provocateurs, Mendoza*@@*s transgressions are born from an organic vision of life, where the biological and the spiritual, the material and the mystical are in equal conditions before his marveled, humble eyes.

Pedro Adrián Zuluaga