If no one had told me the writer and director of Metro Manila was a British filmmaker, I would have easily assumed it was a local marvel who did it.
Sean Ellis came to the Philippines for a week in 2007 and saw the germ for the story while he was out on the street: two men having a heated argument in front of an armored truck. That scene stuck in head until he finally put a plot down on paper, struggling to answer with his imagination, what the two could have possibly been arguing about.
In late 2010, Ellis returned to Manila to shoot his screenplay (co-written with Frank Flowers). He did not want to shoot anywhere else, saying, “I didn’t want to be unfaithful to the original idea because I was given that gift in the Philippines. So I felt I should go back and make it here.”
In a way Metro Manila itself with all its sights, sounds, grit and chaos becomes a character in the film. It’s amazing though that even with such a short amount of time spent in the city, it feels like Ellis has gotten a finger on its pulse and that he’s gotten into the hearts and minds his characters—even the minor ones.
Metro Manila is the story of Oscar Ramirez (Jake Macapagal) who is looking for a better life for his wife and two young daughters—he lands a job at an armored truck company and meets Ong (John Arcilla), after which his life takes all sorts of turns. While premise of character from the province moving to the city has become a cliché, it is one that works as a springboard for a heist movie that also deals with themes surrounding family, human desperation and morality.
Metro Manila debuted in Sundance early this year, and was released France, Belgium, The Netherlands and the UK. It is the UK entry to the Oscar’s foreign language feature category.
If you want to ride the wave of cinema showcasing Filipino talent, this one’s not to be missed. With Metro Manila, Ellis has provided an incredible avenue for local talent, and has exchanged a lot of positivity and enthusiasm with the creative community.
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Metro Manila opened on October 9 in cinemas locally. The remake rights to the film have been bought by 20th Century Fox.