'Metro Manila:' Film poetry

MANILA, Philippines - British film director Sean Ellis’ “Metro Manila” opens in Philippine cinemas this October.

Ellis, a past Academy Award and BAFTA (the British Oscars) nominee, wrote and directed the film based on his impressions during a brief trip to the Philippine capital — particularly of two men employed in an armored truck company, wearing their bulletproof vests, guns, and helmets, as they engage in a squabble.

The true story of Reginald Chua, who made the headlines in 2000 when he hijacked a passenger plane and plunged to his death, also inspired Ellis in his development of the film’s lead character, Oscar.

The protagonist, as portrayed by theater and “indie” actor Jake Macapagal, has a different story in this film. Nevertheless it conveys the theme of the everyman pushed to the edge by life's travails.

Oscar Ramirez leaves the province for the big city in the hope of securing a better life but instead he becomes entangled in a web of deception and betrayal.

Jake was originally involved behind the camera, that is, the film's production. But eventually he was tasked to move to the other side of the camera as the film's lead actor.

Also in “Metro Manila” are John Arcilla, another seasoned theater and independent-cinema actor, and Althea Vega, a rising star in the indie circuit.

The film has already earned critical notice abroad for the nuanced performances of its all-Filipino cast.

AUTHENTICITY.

Macapagal with indie's rising star Althea Vega

Ellis wanted to sustain the authenticity of the film and chose to shoot entirely in Filipino, despite being unfamiliar with the language.

The challenge about this project was that his script was in English.

Ellis gave his actors the freedom to translate the English script on the spot.

“That way, each actor gives a voice to his or her character,” he said.

“If the whole script was translated into Tagalog by one person, then that becomes the [only] voice for the film, and I didn’t want that.”

“Great films always transcend their subtitles,” he said.

Metro Manila’s principal photography was scheduled for 35 days.

The idea was not to limit the film’s setting to the metropolis.

So there’s the stark contrast between the gritty urban realities of Metro Manila and the sprawling natural sights of Banaue.

In my interview with Jake Macapagal, the actor expressed pride at the results of the production.

"Because of the images and the way Sean had presented this, this is a little bit different. But at the same time, it's poetic," the actor said.

"You can count this as one of the better films you've seen."

Manila has always been a fascinating subject for artists. In his fiction and journalism, Nick Joaquin wrote much about the city's lapidary past.

Joaquin's body of work has inspired filmmakers like Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal to portray the city in their film masterpieces, as well as his fellow artists in literature.

International filmmakers from Wong Kar-wai to Tony Gilroy have also built their thrilling, evocative worlds on the foundation of this city and its greater expanse that is Metro Manila. 

As expected, Ellis had difficulty securing financial backing.

But with this handicap, the director himself found room to improvise as he organized the production.

Metro Manila has already secured distribution in several countries, on the heels of its winning the Audience Award in the World Cinema Dramatic category of last year’s Sundance Film Festival.

With all the buzz around “Metro Manila” in film circles abroad, it comes as no surprise if anticipation here at home is also building around this film.

There is sure to be some skepticism as to how the Philippines might be portrayed, especially as this film is directed by a Westerner.

Yet there’s no question too that this earnest film can withstand scrutiny. – Rappler.com


Sean Ellis and the cast will attend ‘Metro Manila’s’ premieres at SM Megamall on October 1 and SM AURA on October 3. The film will be shown in theaters October 9.

A clip of 'Metro Manila' is part of this video on actor John Arcilla: