Mindanao (2019)

Mendoza’s latest doesn’t quite come together as he employs sketchy animation against his docu-realist style in an overdrawn child cancer drama with an allegorical intent that never hits any mark.   

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Dir. Brillante Mendoza
2019 | Philippines | Drama | 124 mins | Tagalog & Filipino
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for some violence

Cast: Judy Ann Santos, Allen Dizon, Ketchup Eusebio
Plot: Saima is the mother of a cancer-stricken kid and the wife of a medic deployed in a conflict of aggression in southern Philippines.
Awards: Official Selection (Busan)
International Sales: Center Stage Productions

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Screener
Spoilers: No

Despite mixed reviews, Brillante Mendoza’s new film should interest his fans who are curious to see what he is up to next.  But having seen it, Mindanao is one of his weakest efforts in a long while.  It is an ambitious work but doesn’t do enough to justify its somewhat radical approach to storytelling. 

There are three stories running parallel to each other, an unconventional triptych if you will.  The main narrative centres on a Muslim mother and her four-year-old child who is suffering from terminal cancer. 

The mother tells a bedtime story steeped in Filipino mythology about good versus evil to her child, and this sprouts into another thread, rendered in animation. 

The third story sees the father, also a Muslim, as a sergeant in the army on a mission to seek and destroy the hideouts of what appears to be Muslim rebels fighting in the jungles of Maguindanao. 

From the bigger picture, it is a film about a minority family and their individual struggles—a mother serving her daughter; a father serving his country. 

While the myth that is told is made to feel visually in-sync with the other two stories by virtue of the sketchy if colourful animation being superimposed onto live-action footage, any intended allegory on Mendoza’s part never really hits any mark. 

As such, Mindanao feels like an overdrawn (and quite literally at times) film that is far too elaborate in its creative vision that it loses sight of what kinds of themes it wants us to think about. 

It is perhaps about loss, acceptance, discrimination of minorities, the burden of women, etc., but the film is unclear as to how we should feel about it.  Excellent performances from Judy Ann Santos as the despairing mother, and Yuna Tangog as the cancer-stricken child though.

Grade: C


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