H.P. Mendoza’s “Bitter Melon” uses raw reality and crude emotions to tell a story that shows us how our psyche functions in his new drama. Declan (Jon Norman Schneider), a young man from Manhattan, and his older brother, Moe (Brian Rivera), have experienced all kinds of neglect and violence growing up, from being abandoned by their parent to having to live with an alcoholic and abusive father. After many years of no contact, the two decide to return to their hometown for a family reunion at Christmas time. When they get there they realize that their other brother, Troy (Patrick Epino) is physically and emotionally abusive towards his wife, Shelly (Theresa Navarro). Their mother, Prisa (Josephine de Jesus) defends and rationalizes his behavior, having been a victim of domestic violence herself. As the story moves forward, family members decide something needs to change and plot together to murder Troy.
As we become involved in the characters’ lives, we see that there are much deeper insights into taboo subjects (the root of dysfunctional behaviors and the desire for revenge). “Bitter Melon” dares to find an explanation for abuse and to presents the shortcomings of trying to solve cruelty with even more cruelty. On the surface, the film is a light-hearted comedy but then it shows sorrow and trauma. We see that dark humor is only a reliable means of delivering sensitive information and truth in an original way that keeps the audience captivated by what they see.
Even though the film deals with a dark subject, it manages to be entertaining and amusing. In the dialogue we hear the clichés that surround domestic violence and intervention. The only bond between our characters is a sort of disturbed, morbid togetherness that comes about as a result of the abuse, abandonment and rejection that they all experienced during childhood. Mendoza manages to create a form of surreal humor that raises essential questions about revenge, the strategies used to help victims and the long-lasting impact of at the lack of love and acceptance. The film makes fun of the quest for justice that is focused on individual punishment rather than a systemic understanding of domestic violence.
The film exaggerates the traits of toxic behaviors, showing the excesses of clinging to familial obligation in spite of blatant abuse. We also get an exploration of feelings of isolation and how we relate to the outside world and each other. “Bitter Melon” has flair, quirkiness and a very strong message.