Despite its long, diverse history, the cinema of the Philippines has never made much impact on Western movie culture. But in a surprising turn of events, Chicago has been consistently abuzz with Filipino movies since the beginning of September. The Siskel Center recently concluded a monthlong Filipino series, and a few weeks back artist Blake Heo spread the word about noted political filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik when he almost screened Tahimik’s I Am Furious Yellow at the Drake Hotel. (Still no word as to when or if that screening will be rescheduled.) In the coming week Chicago Cinema Society continues the trend with two screenings of Metro Manila, a crime thriller set in the nation’s capital that won an audience award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. They take place at Chicago Filmmakers on Saturday at 8 PM and next Wednesday at Columbia College’s Hokin Hall at 6:30 PM.
Metro has inspired comparisons to Manila in the Claws of Light, a 1975 feature by groundbreaking Filipino director Lino Brocka, although director-cowriter Sean Ellis is British. (On a related note, it’s high time someone brought a Brocka retrospective to Chicago—his films are rather difficult to see in this country.) It concerns a poor farmer who travels the title city and gets a job as an armored-car driver. As Roger Ebert once wrote, “in the movies it’s a good bet that when anybody goes to work for an armored car company, sooner or later there is going to be an armored car robbery.” He might also have written that whenever a Filipino movie deals with crime, it’s a good bet that it will address social injustice as well. Indeed, the protagonist of Metro enters into criminal activity out of desperation, as he’s unable to feed his family or provide them with a proper home.
Ellis, who never learned Tagalog, relied on his Filipino cast and crew to bring an air of authenticity to the project. Working on an extremely low budget, he made Metro in guerrilla fashion, shooting on a Canon 5D digital camera. “A lot of people did more than one job, and we were able to get the crew down to two vanloads,” he told the Guardian last year. “It was a very basic, run-and-gun approach, but that was always going to be the style of the film.” In that publication’s review of Metro, critic Steve Rose wrote, “You could complain that the characters are a little thin (perhaps owing to the language barrier), but it’s a resourceful, distinctive film that builds to a satisfying crescendo.”