And them South Side sisters sure look pretty
The cripple on the corner cries out, “Nickels for your pity.”
And them downtown boys sure talk gritty
It’s so hard to be a saint in the city
“Hindi pwede kami magtagal dito. “- that is the Tagalog phrase as I remember it from the movie that Mai Ramirez says at least twice in the Sean Ellis film “Metro Manila”. The first time she comes to that conclusion after seeing an abduction of a woman in plain view of her family and everybody else in a busy street. In terms of disturbing imagery the movie was only getting started. There is no way you can begin to make an honest portrayal of “Metro Manila ” in a general patronage movie.
I write a lot and I love movies but I am not too keen on the idea of movie reviews. Maybe I quit reading reviews because of the bad taste in my mouth I got years ago reading Nestor Torre in the Inquirer when he felt it was his duty to tell you the ending of movies. I will give you some thoughts and if you insist on calling it a review well that’s on you. I already feel bad about having to reveal some plot lines but I will not spoil anything. If you want some background on the production you may go here. I rather know as little as possible about any movie and let the movie itself speak to me.
An 80% price drop in a commodity. That is all it took for rice farmer Oscar Ramirez to uproot his family of four from Benguet to Metro Manila. When the family gets to their destination the patriarch utters a phrase like they are in heaven. Sadly the city is not as welcoming as we would like for a family man who seems to have his heart in the right place. A fellow job seeker on the first day helps out with accommodations by playing middleman to a “landlord”. Later on the family rudely finds out that the real landlord is the local government who begin to usher in the real tenants. Oscar shows resourcefulness and the ability to create a win-win scenario between him and a man in a pickup looking for casual, manual labor. As we find out later, just like the accommodations, all that glitters is not gold as the Led Zeppelin song goes.
That should be the first lesson anyone should learn no matter what age. If something is too good to be true it isn’t. All these get rich quick schemes, which are so easy yet you don’t know one person who made a living out of it. Remember that the next time you see a FB post saying, “This is not a scam”. Earn $1000 a day in doing social networking at home. Brings to mind the slogan of GRP writer Ilda ” Things are not always what they seem”.
Oscar and Mai eventually settle in “jobs”. Mai in place where the female interviewer criticizes her in the first minute for showing physical signs of lactating. Oscar it seems lucks into his work at an armored car transport service because he was spotted in the queue sporting a military tattoo. Both jobs have their own measure of risk Oscar is tasked to drive a bulky armored car with limited sight lines in chaotic Manila traffic and part of the orientation mentions him getting a counterfeit drivers license downtown. Nice nod to the culture there. There seems to be no regulation to brandish and fire a high powered fire arm but go ahead get a fake driver’s license.
As in anything the little touches add to the experience. Scene of the jaywalker dodging moving cars is so indicative of the self-entitlement I see every day traversing the streets. In fact it answers an old riddle. The older of the two daughters really looks like her screen mother. She asked Oscar very early in the movie where would he go when he dies. The answer was very reminiscent of E.T. I have never had to work in an establishment that Mai ends up working at but making allowance for the kids to be present in the work place does remind me of a scene from Paul Verhoven’s “Showgirls”.
It is explained to Oscar that he is signing up for an extremely dangerous job. This is a good time to extol the virtues of John Arcilla who plays Ong who served as mentor, friend, and benefactor for Oscar. Of course like anything else in Metro Manila there are strings attached. I did enjoy the Ong character that serves as both a buffer as well as a conduit between Oscar and Metro Manila. Whether it is too close for comfort (spoiler alert: you may highlight the gap to read) to Denzel Washington’s character in Training Day is for you to decide.
As husband and wife get more intertwined in their respective jobs the film reached a point where the juxtaposition of their situations results in a gotcha moment. Just like in Hangover 2 where the notion was “Bangkok has him now”. Well Metro Manila had both of them. There is no need for Dorothy to come out and tell them they are no longer in Kansas. As Springsteen sang “It’s hard to be a saint in the city”.
I am in no position to critique acting but here goes. Jake Macapagal does project a very believable aw shucks attitude. I bought the simpleton act but upon reflection the character of Oscar was suitable for his inevitable job because he did time in the military. So my question, is this a reasonable state for his character to be in considering any kind of military experience would (I presume) have washed that naivety right out of him?
It is mentioned in GRP and elsewhere that we live in a culture of impunity. The parallel tale that Oscar tells throughout the movie is a good example of that. It is a story of his past and actually reminds me of something I wrote on how human life in the Philippines is anything but sacred. The tale did remind me a bit of one of the stories in Pulp Fiction. The movie is entirely subtitled in English (at least our version). Which at times was a good thing because the outdoor dialogue at times sounded too diluted for me and I could not make out some words once in a while. I have no idea how this will play to audiences that don’t live here or are not immersed in the culture although there is this review in the Guardian.
Inevitably we reach a crossroads point in the story where Oscar can emulate Ong more than he already has, fail bitterly in providing for his family or take some other new path. That I will not give away. I believe Ellis wrapped up the story well. Watch the movie. Mai may not have wanted to linger in Metro Manila but “Metro Manila” did indeed linger with me.
Sean Ellis’ “Metro Manila” will be in theaters Oct 9 2013.
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