Jaclyn Jose’s triumphant Cannes comeback

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Until recently, it would have been arguable that the veteran actress Jaclyn Jose, with her decidedly campy roles of late, is past her prime. A groundbreaking turn in “Ma’ Rosa,” for which she won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival, welcomely disputes this. Photo by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Unexpectedly, there is a gray pall over the homecoming dinner for the cast and crew of “Ma’ Rosa,” headlined by Brillante Mendoza, its director, and Jaclyn Jose, fresh from her Cannes Film Festival win as best actress  — a diamond-encrusted nod for Philippine cinema in the glitzy radar of the international scene. And it’s not just because rain has decided to pour in. It is supposed to be a triumphant return, but a few hours into the Q & A with members of the press, Mendoza hones in on a stark realization, something that a veteran director could only pick up as a bittersweet takeaway after coming back from different international film fests (this is his fourth film at the Cannes official competition slate): No one would probably have watched “Ma’ Rosa” if it had only come out in local theaters, without any Cannes fete or any glamorous acclaim.

Lahat natutuwa pero hindi siya nagta-translate sa box office,” he says. “Hindi naman pinapanood. Mahakot man namin lahat ng awards, matutuwa lang tayo at papalakpak. ‘Pag pinalabas na sa sinehan, wala nang manonood. Mapu-pull out siya after two, three days.”

Jaclyn Jose Brillante Mendoza trophy Jose with Brillante Mendoza, the director of "Ma' Rosa," for which she won the best actress trophy at this year's recently concluded Cannes Film Festival. Photo by JL JAVIER  

There is a nod of agreement from everyone in the room. There have been talks about changes, not only in the industry, but by the government as well, which have put culture and arts on the sidelines, understandably. The small percentage of people who will watch films — not just arthouse but also small independent productions — have been steadily growing thanks to film festivals such as Cinemalaya and Mendoza and Solar’s own Sinag Maynila. But after the two-week run, films rarely flourish out of the circuit and into the arms of the mainstream-hugging audience.

Tanggap ko na yun but I’m not [taking it] sitting down, na nag-si-sulk ako,” the director continues. “I’m doing something. Nagbibigay ako ng film workshops, nagpupunta ako sa mga schools. I never get tired.”

Jaclyn Jose back Jose entertains the media at the homecoming dinner held for the cast and crew of "Ma' Rosa." Photo by JL JAVIER  

Frustration seems to be an integral emotive element for most people involved in the film. Jose’s own daughter, Andi Eigenmann, has been harboring resentments of her own: not getting enough good roles she can call her own, not getting enough recognition for her talents. Jose says she’s felt it, but she’s surprised to hear that a few minutes ago, as Eigenmann was answering questions prior to joining Mendoza and her mom in the holding room, Eigenmann was teary-eyed and mentioned that she’s been thinking of quitting showbiz. “Ma’ Rosa” has become her chance to finally prove something, and the impact that it has made in their lives has encouraged her to do more — an inclusion in Vanity Fair’s Cannes red-carpet best-dressed list notwithstanding.

“No, don’t quit,” Jose tells her daughter. “Ano ba ang pwedeng magawa ng isang ina kung ‘di palakasin ang loob niya at sabihin: ‘Mahaba pa, anak. Kung hindi nila nakita, mayroong ibang tao na makakakita at magbibigay sa ‘yo ng opportunity na ito. It’s gonna be a long journey for you at nag-uumpisa ka pa lang.’ Tapos kaka-introduce pa lang sa kanya sa international scene, so this is just the beginning. Darating ‘yan. Just don’t give up.”

Andi Eigenmann Andi Eigenmann, Jose's daughter and co-star in "Ma' Rosa." Photo by JL JAVIER  

Jose herself hasn’t had much luck in her movies in the last few years. She’s mostly been playing outsized characters on TV, second fiddle to starlets in teleseryes and TV movies, plus the occasional dramatic role that allows her to flex her acting prowess, something so singular that it has become an easily imitated style for comedians — that slow, powerful delivery of lines that’s all but monotonous. Charting items from Jose’s works that people often mention to be their favorites, one observes that some date back to the 80s, including William Pascual’s “Takaw Tukso” (which she has said is one of her own favorite performances), Chito Roño’s “Itanong Mo sa Buwan,” and Lino Brocka’s “Macho Dancer,” — the selection proves all too inimitable compared to recent fluff such as “The Prenup,” “My Little Bossings,” and “A Secret Affair,” where she delivered the line: “Shut up. Bitch ka lang, ako super bitch!”

The flurry of attention to Jose’s filmography also means that people will be seeking out copies of these films, which are unfortunately yet to be restored. “Actually ‘yun nga ‘yung narinig ko, tinatanong nila, ‘Where are these films?’” she says. “Nasa Cinema One ‘yun, eh, kailangan lang nila ipa-restore. Kung gusto nilang ipalabas pwede naman, bigay na bigay naman tayo. Sana ma-consider nila na ma-restore.”

Jaclyn Jose smile “For now this is the biggest that I have achieved in my career,” says Jose of her Cannes Film Festival award for best actress. Photo by JL JAVIER  

She proceeds to list sources for getting prints: Chito Roño has “Private Show” (“Nakatago sa bedroom niya para aircon. Hindi niya pinapahiram ‘yun.”) and “Olongapo, the Great American Dream” (“Meron din tayo,” Eigenmann chimes in); Cinema One has “Itanong Mo sa Buwan”; “White Slavery” was lost in a flood at the now-defunct LVN Pictures studios; Viva Films has “Macho Dancer”; and William Pascual has “Takaw Tukso.”

Ayan, may mga lead na where to get [them],” she says. “Restoration lang sana.”

Jaclyn Jose trophy Ma' Rosa cast Jose with Solar Entertainment CEO Wilson Tieng, director Brillante Mendoza, and the cast and crew of "Ma' Rosa." Photo by JL JAVIER  

Winning Best Actress at Cannes, as some would say, is the highest achievement an actress could get, since the jury-given trophy isn’t particularly swayed by marketing tactics usually employed in an Oscar campaign push. The Cannes trophy is based on merit — a riveting performance, a jarring turn, a divisive stance that even the critics detest — and it is up to the jury to bestow the award to someone among the select few in the official competition film roster. And to win for a film that required of her a wholly improvised performance — the film didn’t have a script to be memorized, only directions from Mendoza — as a drug dealer struggling to make ends meet, and an immersion in the community where the film was set, is something else entirely.

“For now this is the biggest that I have achieved in my career,” she shares. “Ano na ‘yun, napakasarap na. OK na OK na ako. All I have to do is to continue what I’m doing, ganoon lang din. But to have this on the side is … peaceful.”