28 May 2009

Mendoza is Cannes' Best Director

Brillante Mendoza at Cannes
Last year, Brillante Mendoza made the country proud because his film "Serbis" (Service) was selected as one of the finalists competing for the prestigious Palme d’Or. The first and only time a Filipino director had a film included in the competition category of the Cannes Filmfest was in 1984, when Lino Brocka’s opus "Orapronobis" was accepted.

Last 24 May 2009, another movie by Mendoza made it to Cannes to compete with the world’s best filmmakers including Johnnie To (Election), Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction), Jane Campion (The Piano), Pedro Almodova (All About My Mother) and Ang Lee (Sense and Sensibility, Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon).

When the smoke cleared, Mendoza was picked as the best director for his dark movie "Kinatay."

"Kinatay" (meaning "massacre") notably features corrupt cops hacking a prostitute to pieces with blunt kitchen knives.

"Serbis" was set in a Manila porn-theatre with long close-ups of festering boils and overflowing toilets, as well as the poverty and distress on the streets.

Still determined to portray the social reality around him, Mendoza in "Kinatay" traces 24 hours in the day of a trainee policeman, happily beginning with his wedding in the morning to close with the young man's first outing at night with a band of corrupt colleagues.

To his surprise, fear and anguish, they pick up a prostitute accused of betrayal and wind up torturing, raping, killing and hacking her before disposing of the body parts across Manila.

"This is not just entertainment, these kinds of stories are real," Mendoza said at Cannes.

Mendoza was born in San Fernando, Pampanga. He studied advertising at the University of Santo Tomas (UST). With a different background in education, he admits that he was self-taught when it comes to filmmaking. "I just learned by observing different directors," he says.

He adds, "Of course, my background in Fine Arts helped in a way. It helped with the way I dealt with color."

He started working on films as a production designer. Even then, he already had streak of beginner’s luck. In his first two films, he won awards from the Urian for Private Show (directed by Chito Roño) and Takaw Tukso (directed by William Pascual). In time, he made a name for himself as production designer for commercials and music videos. That name, however, was Dante Mendoza—the name he used to credit himself as production designer.

Mendoza laughs at his contrasting roles as Dante, a production designer, and Brillante, a director who seeks truth. "Ang contrasting nga e! Siyempre, in commercials, you tend to make things more glamorous to sell," he says, with a laugh.

He admits, however, that he does not plan to leave production design even after he has found success as a director. "I can’t leave TV commercials because this is where I earn a living," he explains. "But my heart is in movies."