Film Notes
By Pablo A. Tariman

One’s interest in Mikhail Red’s Neomanila stems from a curiosity on how a millennial filmmaker can portray the city’s dark side.

eula valdez rocky salumbides and timothy castillo in neo manila

Eula Valdez, Rocky Salumbides and Timothy Castillo in “Neomanila.” Once more with feeling, a movie on Manila’s Lower Depth.

To be sure, Manila as common destination for poor urban dwellers has been the setting of Lino Brocka’s Maynila Sa Mga Kulo ng Liwanag,Insiang and Gumapang Ka Sa Lusak, among others.

It couldn’t get any seedier than Ismail Bernal’s City After Dark.

The thing is after a few minutes on the big screen, you find yourself thoroughly involved with the characters as though they inhabit your neighborhood milieu.

Neomanila’s story is nothing new and the characters are likewise familiar figures in Manila’s crime scene.

But Red redefines them with a certain detachment as he sees them running away from law enforcers who are really in cahoots with lawbreakers.

When you see Toto (Timothy Castillo) live his dangerous life with a firm resolve to merely survive, you see once more the ‘kapit sa patalim’ type of characters that inhabit stories about the city of your affection.

In the eyes of Direk Mikhail, Manila is where you can retell stories from the most noble and onto the seamier side of the city.

Irma (Eula Valdez) lives her assassin’s life as casually as she makes love with her partner Raul (Rocky Salumbides) before another bloody assignment.

It is just uncanny that you recall Julio Madiaga’s odyssey in Maynilawhen you see Toto (Castillo) trying to survive in a dog-eat-dog world of the city.

mikhail red with cast of neomanila

Direk Mikhail Red with cast of Neomanila. The drug war from the point of view of a millennial.

Among other things, Neomanila has a certain quiet intensity that keeps you glued on the screen as you relive the city after dark this time from a young filmmaker’s point of view.

The thing is Red invests his characters with a certain patina that tells us this is how Lower Depth looks like in a city where everyone is trying to survive no matter what it takes.

His storytelling is to the point with the characters appearing as suspects or victims in a vicious cycle retold many times in television’s prime time news.

There is far more suspense and a riveting denouement as assassin Irma kills her own protégé to rescue another boy that looks like someone she has abandoned in another life.

To Red’s credit, he has assembled actors that look the part and indeed they blend realistically with the city’s stark surrounding.

Castillo (Toto) is a natural actor whose character is drawn to stealing as casually as he makes love to a neighborhood acquaintance.

Salumbides’ character is truly menacing as he executes plans one night and later enjoy a lusty hour as a relief (or quick prize) from his low life.

Angeli Bayani’s short but memorable appearance in the finale is Red’s version of the drug Madonna and her child.

It is easy to categorize Neomanila as just another social commentary on the government’s bloody war on drugs.

But to the director’s credit, he didn’t point fingers on anyone, not even the government.

His story is as shockingly real it can be viewed as another lesson on practical sociology with Philippine setting.

Rated B by the cinema Evaluation Board, Neomanila directed by Mikhail Red opened in cinemas last March 13.

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