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brillante-mendoza-cannes-best-director.jpgManny Pacquiao wins the title of World Light Welterweight Champion and is selected by Time Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the world. Kalamansi, a small, tart, lime-lemon-orange-type fruit indigenous to the Philippines and a staple of Filipino food and drink has started it’s ascent as one of this year’s fine dining ingredients du jour – Chef Curtis Duffy at the Peninsula Hotel Chicago’s five-star Avenues restaurant pairs it with king crab and steelhead roe and sends foodies into paroxysms of ecstasy.  Then, on Sunday, at the closing ceremonies of the Cannes Film Festival, arguably the most important cinema event in the world, Brillante Mendoza cemented his growing reputation as one of the future bright lights of world cinema by winning Best Director at the Festival for another divisive film, Kinatay (The Execution of P), his second time out at the Main Competition, beating out heavyweights such as Quentin Tarantino, Ang Lee, Pedro Almodovar, Alain Resnais, Jane Campion, and Lars von Trier, in a dream-team competition slate that film pundits had dubbed the auteur’s festival.  So is everything Filipino the new black???  Seriously though I am very very proud of Mendoza’s win, the first for a Filipino director, despite the fact that the most internationally-renowned Filipino director of all time, the late Lino Brocka, also competed for the Palme D’Or twice in the 1980s (for Jaguar and Bayan Ko).  From all accounts, Mendoza’s win was the one that caught everyone by surprise (and was allegedly booed by some attendees at the closing ceremony), since Kinatay, an unflinchingly violent tale about the abduction, rape, murder, and dismemberment of a prostitute by a gang of corrupt Manila policemen had been universally reviled at the Festival.  Roger Ebert called it the “worst film ever shown at the Cannes Film Festival”, even worse than The Brown Bunny, which he had previously, and famously, pronounced as the worst ever, causing the notorious media war with it’s director Vincent Gallo. Variety called it “unpleasant” and “banal”.  I remember seeing Mendoza back in 2005 at the Chicago International Film Festival, nervously and inarticulately leading a talkback after the screening of one of his first features, The Masseur, which I found then (and still do) to be derivative and exploitative.  He has made quite a name for himself since then, though, winning major festival acclaim in Cannes and Toronto for his subsequent features, Tirador (SlingShot) and Foster Child.  Last year’s Cannes main competition entry Serbis, a jawdroppingly outrageous story of a family running a theater which functioned as a meeting place for underage male hustlers and their gay johns, complete with explicit gay and straight sex, a boil on a lead character’s ass being popped in extreme close-up, and a goat chase through the theater, equally repulsed and delighted cineastes.  I personally really, really liked it, and found it to be a mature, socially-conscious, intricately-structured work.  I can’t wait to see Kinatay, which, with it’s Cannes win, will probably be highly visible this year in the film festival circuit and in art film theaters across the country, and really, why should I give a rat’s ass to what Roger Ebert thinks, right?  But, more importantly, as a Filipino and an arts and culture lover, I really would like to celebrate Brillante Mendoza – he has loudly and deservedly claimed his own exalted place in contemporary world cinema, but he has also, almost single-handedly, demonstrated the talent, imagination, sophisticated vision that Filipino artists have, and has made the world sit up and take notice of the Philippines once again.  The country has an abundance of talent and a rich history of artistic innovation, sometimes overlooked by a world which has devoted its Philippine-related headlines only to failed coup d’ etats, Imelda Marcos histrionics, or governmental graft and corruption.  It’s about time to change all of that.   Here’s a list of 2009 Cannes Film Festival winner, led by the Palme D’Or for Michael Haneke’s The White RibbonPhoto:  Oh my, Mendoza receiving his prize from Terry Gilliam!  Faint and fall with a thud.

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