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Metro Manila (15)

Ex-fashion designer Sean Ellis's poetic third feature starkly reveals the lower depths of the Philippines capital, says Jeff Sawtell

Directed by Sean Ellis

4 Stars

 

Former fashion designer Sean Ellis launched himself into the feature film arena with Cashback and The Broken, which were discounted out by the critics as being largely superficial.

Yet it looks like a trip to Manila has inspired Ellis to look beneath the surface in Metro Manila. He's produced a gripping drama that morphs into a crime thriller with a novel, if somewhat fantasy, finale.

Opening with vast vistas of the paddy-fields, we're soon reminded that when the workers are reduced to subsisting on a handful of rice they can't even afford food, never mind next season's seeds.

There's only one option. Oscar (Jake Macapagal) and his sultry wife Mai (Althea Vega) pack up their two young daughters and seek out a new life in the city.

Greeted by bright lights and motorway mayhem, they finally find themselves in a grim ghetto where everyone exists on their wits - and the weak.

They fall for a rent-a-room con and further impoverishment. Oscar decides to join the queues on street corners, only to discover the work doesn't pay wages.

Meanwhile Mai, pregnant again, seeks work in a sex bar and is offered a job enticing men to drown their sorrows. Oscar befriends Ong (John Archival), who works for an armoured security firm, in the hope that it'll lead on to employment.

As it turns out, Ong has a plan to move him out of their slum and into other accommodation, where he slowly wins his confidence before proposing a robbery scenario.

The film follows Oscar's fortunes as circumstances change and a plot is hatched that's totally unexpected.

Beautifully photographed and superbly acted, Ellis poetic vision has evidently matured. He's got a bright future and while Hollywood may beckon, it can only be hoped that it doesn't seduce him.

Jeff Sawtell

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