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Metro Manila (2013)
An Edgier side of Urban Life
With the films made in the capital of the Philippines was made like Serbis(2008) by Brilliante Mendoza, Kubrador(2006) by Jeffrey Jeturian that received acclaim locally and internationally. Now, we have another film that takes us ones again with the streets of Manila once more, and one thing that surprised me would be, first, it was directed by a British director, Sean Ellis.
A farmer named Oscar Ramirez, decided to move at the wonders of Metro Manila with his family in order to fulfill a better life, but ends up tasting a harsh and edgier side of the city, with deception, he ends up working as a driver/courier for a truck.
Sadly, when I watched the film in Trinoma, missed the film's first ten minutes of it; I first saw were a short montage of Oscar and his family arriving in Manila. I like the way how the director shot those montage in establishing the gritty and its backward atmosphere, from the streets of Quiapo to Avenida.
The pacing of the film (though I missed the first ten minutes of it as mentioned above) was completely fluid, from entering the dangerous and gritty Manila, the desperation of surviving and looking for a job and taking us to the third act was pumping that it felt like a heart beating so fast – it was very nostaligic and a complete tour-de-force. Theere were also few snippets (that I found very poetic) that caught me, such as the cat taking care of the children that somewhat reflected on Mai and Oscar, being very protective of their children
Aside from the film's realistic narrative and depiction of the country's system, the performances blended so well-played that they set the benchmark of the people living in an urban life. Starting with Jake Macapagal's performance as Oscar Ramirez, he was very believable both as a father and someone coming from the province, not to mention of how he played his character in such a range of emotions – from desperate to funny, especially his scenes with John Arcilla, where he had a very good chemistry.
Speaking of which, John Arcilla's Ong the film's weight and was a complete standout because of his portrayal as a mentor, and his "know it all" vibe was justified so well and his flashback scenes showed range of his acting chops, particularly his monologue about him seeing his partner getting killed by goons; one scene in the third act where he confronted Oscar on getting back with the people who killed his partner, he delivered his lines so emotional and very personal that it hits you through out and gives sympathy at the same time – he made the audience feel his own grief and loss.
With the great performances and amazing screen presence of Jake Macapagal and John Arcilla, Althea Vega who plays Mai Macapagal didn't share the same level as the other two main cast members, she lacked any screen presence, the complexity and her emotions seemed very forced and there were times that she could be either dull or just plainly terrible, despite of the well-written character for her, I find it a huge disappointment of how she portrayed it. In the scene where she was was being serxually harassed by an American customer, there was no emotion in it, she completely lacked the vulnerable side of Mai, another scene where she met the employer Charlie (who happened to be a woman) and decides to take the job, I didn't feel her determination, it was more like, "look, I'm acting" vibe. Althea Vega was completely a miscast and I hope they cast someone who can actually act (Like Mercedes Cabral) and doesn't deliver the lines as if reciting a poem.
The bit players like Mailes Canapi as Charlie, Mai's ignorant yet straightforward employer. Moises Magisa as Buddha, the vain, indulgent and grotesque boss. And lastly, JM Rodriguez as Alfred Santos who owns a fabric business and went downhill; despite of a given screen time in these bit players, they gave the best they can in spite of the material they were given – its such a rarity of having these minor roles being memorable(especially JM's Alfred in the plane scene).
In terms of cinematography, the distorted and shaky camera angles and compositions achieved the wild, gritty environment of metro manila, the close-up shots on the characters showed more emotions, not to mention the shots in the armored truck gave it a secured and secret feel. The shaky shots for me somewhat was excessively used and there were times I find it quite distracting.
Overall, the film's title lived up with the culture, society and its system, Sean Ellis' vision was perfectly executed, well-written characters, the surreal atmosphere, the struggles and hardships. Metro Manila offers a tale, showing the other side of the urban life.