Fact: regardless of my friendship with these actors, I will still say that Metro Manila is among the best films that I have seen so far.
Written and directed by Sean Ellis (not a friend, but I did meet him at last night's screening), the story is tight and engaging, and no scene seems gratuitous, no shot careless, no line a throwaway.
When I first saw the poster of this movie, I was wondering why make Metro Manila the title? Watching the movie, I came to realize why: the main character in the movie is the city itself, and how it affects the protagonist, Oscar Ramirez (played with pained verity by Jake Macapagal) and his family. Metro Manila is depicted as an unforgiving monster who does not appear to have a nurturing side except to monsters like her.
|(Image taken from Jake Macapagal's Facebook page)|
Watching this movie made me remember four movies, three by Lino Brocka (Maynila: Sa Kuko ng Liwanag, Jaguar and Insiang) and Ishmael Bernal's Manila By Night. I wonder if Sean Ellis had seen any of these movies. If he has, then these films must have informed Metro Manila in some way. If he hasn't, then it's alarming that nothing has changed since the 70s, insofar as our lives are concerned. We are still enveloped in poverty, our moral values have not changed, and there is little to hope for in the future. Which brings me to one of the strengths of the movie: we see destitution all around us, but there is no commentary on why this is so. I am not sure if the writers deliberately avoided this by choice, and if they did, then this was a brilliant choice because the telling of Oscar's story becomes more direct and pure.
After the screening, there was a Q&A and I was cringing in my seat at how inane and downright stupid some of the questions were. A few questions were actually observations that were equally cringeworthy. The most common theme seems to be why the abject depiction of life in Metro Manila (the scenes showing the squalor of the slums are Brocka-worthy and will upset apologists from the MMDA and the Catholic church and other like-minded institutions). And I don't get this comment. After all, Manila is a multi-faceted city and it so happens that the movie shows that one facet - poverty - as a part of its plot.
My one quibble about the movie is that the subtitling is awkward in most parts. The reference to telling stories from an armchair is very Western and middle-class. The concept of the Filipino idea of "kapit sa patalim (which could very well be a good title for the movie)" was not captured in the transliteration. (Which brings an interesting point to the dialogue. The script was written in English, and the actors were asked to translate the lines to Tagalog. I wonder if the subtitles are from the original English script).
Metro Manila opens to the public on October 9, 2013. It won the Audience Award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for Grand Jury Prize, and has been chosen as the official submission of the United Kingdom to the 2014 Oscars as its entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category.