Entertainment Magazine

Metro Manila: Unbearably Tragic Story of Hope, Desperation and Survival

Posted on the 28 May 2014 by Haricharanpudipeddi @pudiharicharan

Movie: Metro Manila

Director: Sean Ellis

Cast: Jake Macapagal, John Arcilla, Althea Vega, Miles Canapi

Rating: ****

British filmmaker Sean Ellis shifts this tragic family drama into a serious intense thriller just when you start to feel miserable for the characters. He walks a tightrope between tragedy and suspense and uses it purposefully to portray a family’s struggle to make ends meet in a crime-riddled city, almost flawlessly with unflinching realism and conviction. An unbearably tragic story about hope, desperation and survival, Metro Manila stamps on the aspirations of life in a metro and leaves you with a heavy heart.

Oscar moves with his wife (Mai) and two daughters from his village to Manila, in search of a better livelihood. But the grass is not greener on this side and he realizes it soon after being swindled and chased into the slums. Oscar has three mouths to feed, but he’s jobless with no money in hand. He’s desperate to see his family happy but luck doesn’t favor him until he lands a job as an armoured truck driver, one of Manila’s most dangerous jobs. Mai too finds a job in a lap-dancing bar. And when everything starts to very gradually fall in place, Oscar’s partner and boss Ong, makes a shady proposal and Oscar sees a way out of his miserable life for good.

This survival story of a family’s struggle shows how people are pushed in nasty moral corners and forced to do things they would never even imagine doing in the first place. When Mai begs for a job in the bar even though she knows she doesn’t want to do it but has to do it, you realize the desperation of this family. Similarly, in his job interview, Oscar is asked why he would commit himself to one of the most dangerous jobs. He replies, “My daughter has a toothache”. Ever since he left his village, his daughter has been complaining of toothache and Oscar desperately needs money to fix her up. This desperation is brought forth wonderfully in their performances by Jake and Vega, who are worried about their future in Manila, but never lose hope. In another standout scene, Mai cries worrisomely thinking about their miserable life but she quickly wipes her tears and says, “Someday… we will get out of this mass.”

Ellis surprised with a lot of twists and turns as he shifts the family tragedy into a socio-economic analysis cum heist thriller. All of a sudden the film throws at you moments that will make jump in your seat, root for an unlikely hero and occasionally smile at intentional hilarity. Ellis has a keen eye for both visceral action and relationship drama and he succeeds at it by keeping action minimum and human drama maximum.

The performances are real and have the power to emotionally arrest as well as entertain. Of all the performances, Ong stood out with his honest portrayal of Oscar’s partner and boss. His instant transformation from a very friendly partner to a conniving boss is probably one of the best scenes in the film. But some scenes between Ong and Oscar are equally funny even though they share some ugly scenes as well.

The real kick of the film, which has several horrific sequences, is provided by its earthy realism. The movie attempts to look for economic solutions to impossible situations through the eyes of an impoverished family. The film’s strength lies in its storytelling, which is never melodramatic but necessarily tragic at regular intervals. The official Hindi remake of “Metro Manila” titled “Citylights” releases Friday in cinemas in India. If the remake is even half as good as the original, we have a winner.


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