Friday, August 22, 2014

Movie with Abe: Metro Manila

Metro Manila
Directed by Sean Ellis
Released August 22, 2014

While it’s nice to tell a story about people who are inherently happy, it can also be fascinating to focus on those who manage to encounter extraordinary misfortune. That’s certainly the case in “Metro Manila,” which follows Oscar Ramirez and his family from simple farmer to security guard in major city Manila in the Philippines. Facing worsening health of his children, homelessness, and dismal job prospects, Oscar manages to find work and discover a sense of hope and optimism he didn’t realize he still had in this engaging and energizing drama.

Oscar (Jake Macapagal) is a man who can’t help but tell the truth. When he goes in for an interview to drive an armored truck, he readily admits to not having a license and tells his interviewers that his past includes time in the army and an occupation as a farmer. Those around him laugh at how honest he is, and he seems unfazed by their reactions, continuing to speak truthfully. There is a certain joy that comes with his ability to be natural, most evident in his excited decision to save all but the first bite of his first purchased work lunch for later so that he won’t enjoy and finish a good thing too quickly.

Oscar’s attitude doesn’t mean that his world is necessarily bright. After an unfortunate eviction, his wife Mai (Althea Vega) interviews for a position as a dancer at a bar, and it’s a job that gets grimmer by the minute, including more than a few unadvertised and despicable conditions. Oscar bonds with his new partner Douglas Ong (John Arcilla), and their lighthearted conversation also includes disturbing stories from Ong’s recent past on the job. Ultimately, Oscar’s enthusiasm proves inspiring, even if his circumstances are rather desolate.

“Metro Manila” is a film that builds in pace, starting out slow and then heightening to a far more dramatic and enthralling conclusion. A less than speedy start is more than made up for by strong dialogue, assigned particularly to Ong as he acclimates Oscar to his new lifestyle. As he opens up, Oscar too proves to be a fantastic vehicle for language and storytelling, getting a taste of the good life while he reflects back on all that led him to his current place. The winner of the World Cinema – Dramatic prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival is a very worthwhile and enlivening foreign film.


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