In Manila, two elderly women find themselves confronted by a shared
drama: Lola Sepa (Anita Linda) has just lost her grandson, stabbed to death by a
cellphone thief; Lola Puring (Rustica Carpio) is the grandmother of the young murderer
who is awaiting trial. One needs money to provide her grandson with a
decent funeral, while the other fights to get her own grandson out of gaol. Wandering through the city's streets under pounding rain, they
both struggle indefatigably for their respective family's salvation.

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Grieving grandmothers make for a murderous mood.

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: Brillante Mendoza’s film has such a powerful mood of misery it's hard to watch. Apparently he elected to shoot it in Manila’s rainy season. Captured digitally by cinematographer Odyssey Flores, the swirling rain gives the image a gauzy effect; it's like the very fabric of the world seems to be dissolving. Still, much of the film feels unaffected; part of this is because the action is described in long, hand held takes, and partly because it’s actually shot in the city's poverty stricken streets and performed by actors who don’t seem to be acting at all, but being.

Lola has a plot, but it isn’t a movie about plot, it’s about how the poor live, and watching the movie becomes like a vigil – or like observing someone slowly whither against some enormous force – like death.

Lola, the program, helpfully tells us, is the Tagalog word for grandmother. The movie follows two Lola's. One is Sepa (Anita Linda). Early in the movie we watch as she struggles against a terrible rain with a candle in her hand. She is paying tribute to her recently slain grandson. Lola Puring (Rustica Carpio) is the grandmother of the murderer. She’s trying to save her grandson; but she’s also trying to survive.

Everywhere Mendoza points his camera is beaten, decayed and tired; but everyone is obsessed with money. Serpa tries to raise money for the funeral. Puring tries to raise money for the trial. Age and a lack of sympathy from a world with its own problems add to tension in the two Lola’s lives. When, late in the movie, the two old women meet there is a kind of kinship. They can help each other; where the authorities simply can’t. They strike a deal with the other. They get by.

Some critics have read Mendoza’s conclusion to this bleak scenario here as a critique on the way economics govern our morals. I’m not at all certain. To be sure, money settles the immediate dilemma surrounding the murder. But that’s a reading on the film and the characters, that depends on them as both naïve and cynical and both these women have been played as wearied but resilient. These women know the score. They are full of sorrow. They go on. In this world, that’s got to be a kind of victory.