Take a Drink: every time someone gets screwed over by the system
Take a Drink: for every nice thing Ong does for Oscar
Take a Drink: every time the whole family is in peril
Do a Shot: whenever the little girl says something mind-numbingly obvious and/or precious
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
The Philippines may not leap to mind as a growing cinematic market, but its output has been growing and over the last few years it has started to land well-received nods at some major film festivals. Graceland was one of my favorite films last year, and Metro Manila looks like it has a shot at making my list for 2014.
If the absurdly entertaining Winter’s Tale doesn’t bump it off.
It’s the tale of Oscar (Jake Macapagal), a poor rice farmer who moves his family to Manila in search of work. After more than their share of hardships, he finds it- as a security guard in in the highly dangerous armored truck field. Even with the danger, everything seems ideal- a great partner, Ong (John Arcilla), constantly helping him out, a steady paycheck, and a more secure place for his family to live. In Metro Manila, though, it takes more than good luck to get ahead.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right off- Metro Manila is more melodrama than cinerealism, despite its setting and serious tone. It’s an excellent melodrama, though, instantly engaging and easily invoking empathy for the plight of its characters.
A great deal of the credit for that, of course, is its performances, and Macapagal in particular does a great job portraying a fundamentally decent man trying to make his way in an indecent world, until at last he’s driven to push back against it. His wife, played by Althea Vega, also does heartbreaking work as a simple woman resigned to doing what she must to survive, and not interested in pretending like she likes it. A last nod to Arcilla, whose affable, joyful, and slightly cynical personality is perfect for each stage of his character.
Director Sean Ellis shows some serious potential in his debut, delivering tight editing, intriguing sound design, and gorgeous cinematography (he also serves as his own DP). In particular, his handling of action sequences is hard-hitting and realistic.
I’d say “as opposed to Hollywood”, but I guess being confused and disoriented is pretty realistic.
What really takes this film from good to great, though, is an apparently secondary storyline of a plane hijacker that intersects metaphorically with the main plot in increasingly meaningful ways, culminating in a simply spectacular ending. It made me rewatch the first scene right after the film ended, and if I didn’t have to leave then I probably would’ve watched the whole movie all over again.
Three minutes into Metro Manila, I could tell that was either made by a non-Filipino filmmaker, or geared towards non-Filipino audiences. The Banaue Rice Terraces make for a beautiful backdrop, but an English speaker would never have to grow rice in the first place with all the tourism business in the area, much less have to head to Manila for work with no plan whatsoever.
If you know nothing about The Philippines, these details won’t annoy you so much. What may, though, is how this poor family hits every branch of the poverty struggle cliché tree on its drop from the top. When the little girl gets recruited for prostitution, that was a tad too far for me (although they don’t go any further with it, thankfully).
Speaking of the girl, pretty much every word out of her mouth is painfully on the nose. Yeah, this is the type of film where a child sees a fancy hotel and asks “Daddy, is that where we go when we die?”
Maybe her name is Lil’ Miss Maliwanag… (Bonus Tagalog joke!)
Metro Manila may embrace a few too many clichés, but thanks to strong acting and directing and one incredible finale, it soars above them in the end.