x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Philippine director Brillante Mendoza shines at Venice

Brillante Mendoza talks about the portrayal of a conflict-torn community in his new film Sinapupunan.

Brillante Mendoza. Gabriel Bouysafp / AFP
Brillante Mendoza. Gabriel Bouysafp / AFP

At the Venice Film Festival on Thursday, the Philippine director Brillante Mendoza said he wanted to show a different side of the Muslim communities in a conflict-torn part of the Philippines.

His new film Sinapupunan (Thy Womb), one of the 18 movies vying for the prestigious Golden Lion award at the world's oldest film festival, is set on the islands of Tawi-Tawi in the country's southern region of Mindanao.

The beautifully shot movie tells the story of a wife who cannot conceive and sets out with her husband to find a second wife who can give him a child. The intensity of the plot comes from the shame of infertility and the relationship between the two women in a tradition-bound fishing community.

"The misinterpretation is that it's a very violent place, very aggressive and very dangerous but it's not," said Mendoza, whose last film Captive, starring the French actress Isabelle Huppert, premiered in the Philippines this week.

The Muslim insurgency in the Mindanao region began in the early 1970s and the fighting has killed about 150,000 people, miring large parts of the south in deep poverty. Peace talks have been going on for about a decade, but have been frequently bogged down by deadly clashes, with both sides accusing each other of violating a ceasefire.

"I was surprised when I arrived. It's really different from what we thought. The people there are not aggressive, they're very calm, they're not confrontational and they have an amazing culture," he said. "It was a discovery for me and I thought I should share this."

Mendoza, who won an award for best director at the Cannes film festival in 2009 with Kinatay (The Execution of P), is known for choosing controversial topics for his films, including prostitution and corruption.

"I realise that film is such a very powerful medium. For me this is a very rare opportunity to change the mindset of people, to change society," said the 52-year-old director, a former production designer in the advertising business who only began making films in his mid-40s.

"A story is a story. I tell the stories I want to tell, whether they are dark or not. The only important thing is that people see the story in film and that the message arrives." - AFP