For the past two weeks I have been teaching my Grade 6 students the concept of population and overpopulation, next week (or I hope just after the unit test and before their educational tour) I will be venturing into the concept of migration. The first thing I will do in that unit is probably ask them “do the people you see on the streets ever wonder or ask themselves if they should just go back to their province?” or maybe something more in the line of “why do people leave?”. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a lot of good responses from my grade 6 students. If not then I’ll probably have to wing it and hope that we can arrive to what I want them to understand. Basically that is the concept of Metro Manila, the award winning British film directed by Sean Ellis. The film explores those questions in detail. From a simple and near perfect life in the province, the migration to Manila becomes a nightmare and an emotional rollercoaster of sorts to the life of Oscar and Mai Ramirez.
Metro Manila explores the gray realities of a life in Manila. Far from the simple and almost naivete life in the province, Ellis’ film takes his viewers on a morally ambiguous ride into the city’s darker and seedier side. It is not a happy film as Oscar Ramirez (played by Jake Macapagal) struggles and learns, in the hardest way possible, that the city life isn’t a happy place. Characters from all stereotypes are well represented: the well-meaning wife who has to whore herself, the morally ambiguous partner, and the typical Pinoy packed to the brim with his fatalism and his own odd morality.
At 115 minutes long the film breezes by, exploring the life of Oscar Ramirez’s problems in the province that eventually magnify and explode right in face when he migrates to our dear old city. The sights and the sounds are not pretty but it sends out a powerful message about the cycle of poverty. Despite being gritty, Metro Manila is also a story about redemption and also of hope. It plays the latter very well, exposing the characters to their barest and in the most depressing way only to yank the viewers out of this miserable stupor into believing that all will be well.
Being the first Cine Europe film in over 8 years, I was certainly not disappointed by this art film. The production was well made and the scenes and landscapes of Manila were arresting. Sean Ellis brought the city to life without having to play the usual cinematic tropes of washing it down and making the city seem dreamy. Though sometimes it plays the “poverty porn” too much, it certainly did not distract me from enjoying the film. If you have nothing to do, check it out in this month’s Cine Europa event at the Shangri-La Mall cinemas.