Metro Manila: Poetry in Chaos

I had the fantastic opportunity to see this critically-acclaimed film at a London theatre last week. It was shown on one night simultaneously in 12 cities across the UK, wherein all the proceeds go to Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda victims. A quality film matched with a quality deed, can't go wrong with that. Metro Manila is UK's entry for the Oscars Best Foreign Film category. Yes, a British film, director, writer and producer about Filipinos on Manila.

'Why?', you might ask. The director Sean Ellis will tell you many reasons, but I might assume he would start with: 'Why not?'

I'll try not to put spoilers on here, as the trailer alone may give you enough inputs on what the film is about. Crime. Poverty. Family. Money. Deceits. Lies. Death. Life.

You might think you have seen it all. No, you have not.

The film's texture and the setting alone shows you stark contrasts of lively colours and hues, and it will transport you to dark and disturbing images. The protagonist Oscar is shown working on his land in Banaue up in the north tending to his field. Together with his family, they decided that the answer to their current financial crisis is to go to Metro Manila. They left the green mountains to go to the dark abyss that is the capital of the Philippines.

The film will help you feel and relate to Oscar. You'd pull for him, and you want to dive into his journey with his young family of 2 kids. Personally, as someone who lived and worked in Metro Manila, the film has shown a perfect mirror of the city. I could still feel the hot air, the pollution, the traffic; I could hear the noises, the screaming, the commotion, the organised chaos. I could taste the street food, I could smell the stench of the rotting garbage, the wet markets, and the sweaty person next to you on a public utility vehicle. I could feel the slums and the poverty. I am part of it. Every Filipino has a part of Manila in them.

There was a line by Oscar's eldest daughter of 8 or 9 years old, complaining about her nagging toothache. The lines were not verbatim, but the idea is captured.

Daughter: 'Father, my tooth is aching.'
Father: 'When we get to Manila, a doctor will be treating that. Just a little more patience.'
(Now in Manila, and still without money.)
Daughter: 'Father, you said a doctor will treat my toothache here in Manila.'
Father: 'It's gonna be okay. We will find a way.'
Personally, that is a microcosm scene of what it is to be in Manila. Or to be a Filipino. We get nagging problems, day in and day out. We know how to solve the problem, we know who to go to. But the means or access to the solution isn't easy to reach. And we wait, and just have more patience and try to forget about it. It will be a vicious cycle that made most of us resilient and tougher.

It was shown and mentioned multiple times about the family's faith to God. Despite the trials and struggles, they never forget to have faith in their minds and in their hearts. It could be a blinding faith that may cause more suffering, but nevertheless they do not forget their blessings. But it was evidently tested, and the viewers' faith will be questioned as well.

It is a viewfinder for the audience who have not been in Manila. The setting is that good and vibrant. You will be transported inside the story, and that is critical in filmmaking and story-telling. And MM have achieved that.

The dialogues were written clearly and tightly. They were straight and direct, and almost flawless for translation for the subtitles for non-Filipino speakers. But they were wrapped in emotion. The execution of the actors were like poetry. You will pain. You will love them. You will hate them. And you will still root for Oscar, even if in the wrong. You would want to help him and his family. 

Don't forget I mentioned it was about crime. And you will not be disappointed. The twists and turns themselves are free roller coaster rides within minutes of convincing yourself thinking that you've figured it out. 

Are we all corruptible? Do we have our morals intact when pushed to the edge? The film's tagline is : 'Desperate Men Take Desperate Measures.'

The ride scenes, inside an armored van, is always a treat for the adrenalin and the heart. Each scene will take you for a thrill and for little doses of paranoia. You will try to read the minds of the characters as you see their personality unfold. You could see their eyes drift to the side, and you will brace for yourself too. The chaos will take you for a spin.

In the end, it is a well-thought out and planned opus. Some critics have likened it to a Christopher Nolan-like cerebral thriller, or compared to Quentin Tarantino's crime twists. The execution was brilliant and worthy of nominations and awards.

Will ordinary Filipinos like it? Some hate being shown realities of life, they don't want to see about slums and hungry homeless people, they'll just look outside their windows. They don't want to see about the crimes, they'll just watch the news. They want to see about the positives, about fantasies, or any film with magic and laughter. Anything about John Lloyd. So we won't complain about our daily nagging problems. About our own 'toothaches.'

Blinded we all are. It's time to take off the blind fold and wake up from the fantasies. Metro Manila will take your blind fold, slap you in the face and look into reality.

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