Saturday, October 1, 2022

Watch List: A Wrenching Indictment of Philippine President Duterte's Drug War

(Ben Rekhi, 2019, Philippines, in Tagalog w/ English subtitles, 94 minutes)

Filmmaker Ben Rekhi offers a wrenching indictment of the devastation President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war has wrought on the people of the Philippines. 

The story begins when cops round up dozens of suspected drug dealers in a Manila district, including Maria (Alessandra De Rossi) and Turo Ramon (Jess Mendoza). They're recovering drug addicts, and he's an ex-con, but they went straight once their kids came along. The cops take mug shots, collect urine samples, and enroll them in a mandatory rehabilitation program. 

The next day, Turo is killed on his way to work. Cops insist they weren't responsible, that there's no surveillance footage, and that Turo had meth in his pocket. Maria doesn't believe it. A cop named Ventura (Jake Macapagal) assures her they're trying to solve the case, but she's skeptical about that, too. Turo's death leaves her to fend for their three kids on her own, including 13-year-old Mark (Micko Laurente). 

From neighbor Hector (Lou Veloso), Maria learns that there's no way to get off the drug watch list. Once the state brands a citizen a dealer, they'll always be seen as a dealer. With no income coming in, she downsizes to a smaller shack, and tries to find a job, but no one wants to hire a dealer's widow. 

Out of desperation, she offers to work for Ventura. It's a risky proposition when the police force is rife with corruption. Ventura teams her with a mysterious figure named Torres (Manu Respall), tasking them to catch dealers in the act by pretending to be users or, in one particularly harrowing instance, a sex worker. It doesn't take Maria long to piece together what happened to Turo now that she's just like the people who killed him. 

While she struggles with her conscience, Mark starts hanging out with a friend, Joel (Timothy Malabot), who has become a dealer. A bright, observant boy, Mark tries to stay on the right side of the law, but the pull is strong. He also starts to figure out that his mother has gotten mixed up in something bad, but he isn't certain what it is. 

The conclusion leaves the tiniest glimmer of hope that things might get better someday, but it won't be anytime soon as this system, which is presumably designed to eliminate drug abuse, more effectively encourages it. 

The entire cast is strong, but De Rossi stands out as a woman who becomes everything she hates to provide for the people she loves. Rekhi, an American filmmaker, is aided immeasurably by cinematographer Daniella Nowitz's vivid camerawork. Not an easy watch, though consistently compelling, Watch List is one of the best anti-drug war films I've ever seen.

Watch List is available via Tubi. Images from The Manila Times (De Rossi), The New York Times (De Rossi and Respall), and Flickering Myth.

No comments:

Post a Comment