Sunday, 21 July 2019

Metro Manila

This 2013 film from The Philippines can certainly be filed under World Cinema as it gives the world a picture of what life is like for ordinary folk trying to scratch a living there. I have first hand knowledge of how things are in The Philippines and the realities that I have been told about reflect very much the picture created here.

Writer/director Sean Ellis' only other film of note seems to have been the disappointing remake of Operation Daybreak, Anthropoid. Fortunately, Metro Manila is very much better and worthy of seeking out. The three leads are clearly well known in the east and I'll no doubt get letters for not knowing them! Jake Macapagal, John Arcilla and Althea Vega are the names in question. Arcilla does have a credit for having been in The Bourne Legacy - and certainly comes across in the film as the most accomplished of the cast.

An ex-soldier tries to settle down in the countryside with his wife and two children, growing rice, like many thousands do in the region. The greedy buyers of the rice have so much on offer and know that the farmers have nobody else to deal with that they lower and lower the offering price and drive people into poverty, not even having enough to eat, let alone look forward. Our family decide that they have to do something to survive - and like many other naive people, head for Manila where they think opportunity must be better than starving to death in their village.

They arrive in Manila, green as grass, and instantly get ripped off by pretty much everyone they bump into. They end up living in the slums with no food, no money. He tries to get a job, but can't. He gets a day's work only to be ripped off again. Eventually, he responds to an advert for a firm looking for security guards in a high-risk operation where the employee death rate is high because of the corruption and crime on every corner. Unknown to him, he's being groomed for more unpleasantness down the line.

In the meantime, his wife decides that the only way she can hope to work and feed her kids is to get involved in a seedy bar where staff are expected to do favours for drink-buying customers. Just to complicate all that, it turns out that she's pregnant and starting to show, so her new career doesn't last long. However, the bar owner has a solution - as some of the customers would be more interested in the daughter anyway. The harsh realities facing people this situation are clear to see. A downward spiral of moral compromise, people with no scruples and sole intention being to survive themselves at any cost to anybody around them - adjusting to need and demand, learning quickly through adaptation - and this in a country rife with religious mania forced on them by the Spanish centuries before.

The husband by now is working as a security guard and getting pulled into dark behaviours with a group of men working there as well, again, victims abused by those around them responding by sinking into decline towards the lowest common denominator. It's a harrowing and sad look at realities facing many people in The Philippines - and I'm sure many inner-cities around the world not afforded the affluence that people in the west take for granted.

As I said at the outset, I have been told by people who come from The Philippines how it is (I was married to a Filipina for some years). The widespread corruption and crime infecting every official and department - a climate where people routinely buy a driving licence because corrupt officials are on the make, for example. All sounds very depressing, but actually the film has been made very well and the three leads play their parts quite superbly. The horror of the characters' situation is clear to see and has been very well filmed. The shooting is reflective of an inner-city slum area, the hustle and bustle of millions of people fighting for the same thing - to just survive.

The film does meander off a little towards the end into more of a sub-plot thriller, but let that not distract from the image being created here - and by far the main take-away from the film. Most of it's in Tagalog with subtitles, but reflecting reality in the country, there is an amount of English spoken too - and many people speak both languages - alongside the thousands of other dialogues around the country. Recommended, educationally, I think.

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