Manila (2009)

Interesting but uneven, and ultimately conventional despite its experimental intent, this shot-in-16mm tribute to Filipino auteurs Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal operates as a diptych capturing the underbelly of Manila.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review #2,168

Dir. Raya Martin & Adolfo Alix Jr.
2009 | Philippines | Drama | 90 mins | 1.78:1 | Filipino
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for some violence and coarse language

Cast: Piolo Pascual, Rosanna Roces, Jay Manalo
Plot: A split day/night story, played by the same lead actor and set along the streets of Manila. In the first half, a young man grapples with drug addiction and his mother’s disappointment. In the latter section, a bodyguard who kills someone while protecting his boss is abandoned to fend for himself.
Awards: Official Selection (Cannes)
International Sales: Visit Films

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

A collab between Raya Martin and Adolfo Alix Jr., Manila was also meant as a tribute to early Filipino auteurs Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal, particularly their respective films Jaguar (1979) and City After Dark (1980). 

Operating as a diptych separated by a mid-movie credits sequence that sees a cameo by Lav Diaz as he directs a set of cast and crew for what appears to be a romantic picture, Manila stars Piolo Pascual as the leading man in the two segments that have been described as ‘day’ and ‘night’—two different narratives and characters in a common location, that of Manila, as each finds himself by unfortunate circumstance alone and helpless. 

Shot in black-and-white and in 16mm, there is a raw documentary quality to Manila, and in fact, it is the visuals that prove to be far more compelling than the stories. 

The ‘day’ segment tells of a strained relationship between a drug addict and his disapproving mother, while the ‘night’ part features a bodyguard who is abandoned by his boss after accidentally killing someone. 

But the plotting is ultimately conventional despite the film’s experimental intent from the get-go.  Manila is still an interesting watch, however uneven or inconsequential it seems to be. 

Screened out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival, perhaps the best takeaway from the film lies in its depiction of the ugly underbelly of the city, including the abuse of power by the authorities. 

Grade: B-


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