Metro Manila – 3rd Possible Filipino-Themed 2014 Oscar Nominee

When my film-addict Malaysian officemate told me that a movie called “Metro Manila” was the United Kingdom’s bet to the Best Foreign Language Film in the 2014 Academy Awards (Oscars), I was confused. I have never heard of it before, and I was still amazed by the fact that Singapore’s bet, Ilo-Ilo, is about a Singapore family and their Filipina domestic helper (I wrote about it here). Including our own entry, Transit, that makes 3 Oscars-hopeful that are Filipino/Philippines-themed.

Metro Manila Movie Poster

Metro Manila is a film by British film director Sean Ellis. It was entirely shot in the Philippines (in Tagalog) and is about the struggle of a family from Banaue province who came to the big city in hopes for a better life, but soon learns that life in Manila isn’t as bright and beaming as the skyscrapers and billboards that are scattered all over the city.

Metro Manila trailer:

Together with a Singaporean (Lining) and Filipino (Ian) friend, I watched Metro Manila in Golden Village Vivo City last Friday. There were lots of “scenery” shots for the viewers to get a feel of the city: pedestrians crossing in the middle of EDSA, slums in Tondo, passengers scattered all over the street calling for buses and jeeps, huge billboards and many other depressing scenes. I was taking peeks at Lining to see her reaction. As much as I wanted to complain to Mr. Ellis for showing the dirtiest and worst of Manila, I couldn’t fault him for making up any of the scenes because they were true – those scenarios exist and have been complaints of Filipinos year after year. I just made a mental note to tell Lining after the film that there are so much better stuff to see that’s not shown in the film.

Unlike Ilo-Ilo, this was an action film which kept me at the edge of my seat. It took me to a lot of ups and downs. There were scenes where I felt genuine despair for the characters, and then there were scenes that made me so hopeful that things would end well. But then things would spiral down again, and up and down and…

It reflected the situation of Manila or generally the Philippines. Most of the time, we feel hopeless for our country and then there will be sparks of news that would give us something to look forward to, only to be crushed by more bad news, and the cycle continues. It leaves us back to where we were, numb to the cycle of good and bad in our country that eventually, we just learn to not expect things to get better but also not feel so hopeless because “God will find a way”. This numbness, or contentment to some, prevents us from moving forward.

Metro Manila actually reminded me of Raymond Red’s Manila Skies (originally titled Himpapawid) not just because of the mini story in the film, but more of the style of showing the struggles in Manila and having a unique twist in the end. The film felt so local that I wouldn’t have guessed that a foreigner directed the film. For a moment I thought I was back in Manila, watching Cinemalaya in CCP. I was so curious to how a foreigner could immerse himself so much to our culture that he is able to come up with a story that felt like it came from a local. This Philstar interview with him explains it all.

I haven’t had the chance to watch Transit (I hope they show it here in Singapore), and I would love to have a Filipino-directed film finally be nominated in the Academy awards, but between Metro Manila, Transit and Ilo-Ilo, I’m just very proud that people are taking interest in our culture. Hopefully all the attention could direct some solutions to the problems Filipinos face that are portrayed in the films.

If you’re in Singapore, catch Metro Manila in Golden Village cinemas!

Photo credits:

Metro Manila film poster from