Metro Manila is intimate and emotional, following the struggle of a Filipino family who move to Manila to try and find work. As viewers sink into the atmosphere of gritty realism through a poetic lens, a crime thriller evolves out of the corruption and deceit in the city.
Oscar and Mai work selling rice stock. The opening moves quickly, as we see them forced to sell for less than the true value of their produce; with no money and two children to look after, they make the decision to move to Manila in search of better jobs. Their new beginning doesn’t go smoothly, and the family lose all their savings to a conman claiming to offer accommodation.
They have no other choice but to live in the slums of the city, remaining strong, good-hearted people nonetheless. They do not allow themselves to crumble under the desperation of their situation, but instead try to stay hopeful, and when Oscar lands a job as an armoured truck driver it really does feel positive, despite this being a dangerous line of work.
The emotional tension is really brought about through Mai having to work in a strip bar, and the conflict that both husband and wife suffer as a result. Their inner turmoil is reflected beautifully in a powerful scene in which Oscar is persuaded to go for a drinking session with his new workmates. Music plays over shots of Oscar laughing drunkenly, and then breaking down in tears amid scenes of Mai being groped by a sleazy stranger and staring sadly into the audience.
Oscar’s relationship with work partner Ong is the catalyst for further, more serious trouble. A seemingly humorous, wise and helpful man, it is eventually revealed that Ong has had a secret motive all along in his friendship with Oscar. This turn in the narrative leads to a bigger twist, and illuminates the dilemma of morality in desperate situations.
The slow pace and rich visual style in Metro Manila are what help to develop the main characters so well and bring honesty to their conversations and emotions. This is a smart film that will absorb audiences with its neat plot, believable characters and evocative scenes.
Metro Manila is released in the UK on 20 September 2013.
Watch the trailer for Metro Manila here: