Mortician of Manila: Brutal and Brilliant

Leah Borromeo’s Award-winning short film on a 24-hour funeral parlor in Manila and its clientele is not for the weak of heart (or stomach). But every frame is worth it.
This short film, initially created for the Al-Jazeera Witness documentary series, is yet another lesson in the almost trite slogan of ACAB but this is on an entirely different and global level.

Mortician is a detailed and heartbreaking examination of Orly, the elderly (yes) mortician whose job it is to take care of some of the most savaged and battered dead bodies of the city. As this documentary unfolds, Borromeo shows Orly’s complex ethics and personal life with great skill, making Mortician of Manila one of the most incredible documentaries I’ve seen in years. Orly is a challenging and complicated character to follow but there’s truly no one like him. Charming and maddening at the same time, this Mortician has to be seen to be believed.

With a sign on the wall reading “Autopsy is Free of Charge,” Orly believes he is doing a service to the painfully poor community that he serves. But this community (and the entirety of the Philippines) has been ruptured and is continually terrorized by current President Rodrigo Duterte and his anti-drug policies. These policies (the Philippine Drug War) actively target the poor, authorize public citizens to kill drug addicts (the government does not see them as human), established death squads, and encouraged police to murder young Filipinos and plant evidence on them to establish “guilt.”

Let’s be clear: this is a very graphic short doc and totally qualifies as a horror movie. But it will leave your heart shattered by the end. The terror of these families who would rather see their children stay in prison for a safer environment is a real thing. Young men in their 20s are shot like animals and left to die in an alley, families just accept this as life and move forward trying to make the next step…if they can afford it. Which they usually cannot. Funerals are a luxury. Orly does what he can but…it’s tough out there. Bodies keep coming and the money isn’t there for anyone.

This is a must-see if you can handle hard-watches. Leah Borromeo is an excellent documentarian. Using Orly’s story as a through-line, heartbreaking social issues, political commentary and graphic imagery are handled with sensitivity and incisiveness. An incredible film.

This film is part of the Juke In The Box package for the LAAPFF, only available to viewers in the United States from September 24, 2020 at 12pm PT to September 30, 2020 at 11:59PT. From October 1, 2020 at 12pm PT to October 31, 2020 at 11:59 pm PT, this film is only available to viewers in Southern California (excluding San Diego County).

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