MNL 143 (Emerson Reyes, 2012)

There is an overwhelming romantic air in Emerson Reyes's highly controversial film MNL 143, and no it's not just the satisfying third act where we wait and we wait for Joy Viado to appear the entire movie and there she goes and it was beautiful. All throughout the film, you can feel Reyes's love for the urban landscape on which he's a part of, an undeniable ode to the hustle and bustle of everyday Metro Manila setting. Hence the title. 

There's your protagonist Ramil, charmingly played by Allan Paule. He's an FX driver who's about to work abroad, and on this last day of him as a driver we share in his experiences- the passengers he encounters, the heartbreaks he feels, and the eventual surprise of his life.

An array of unforgettable characters add color to the story, the FX passengers range from an irritating elderly woman, to a coño colegiala, to filmmaking students and even loud gays whose comments you'd want to post as status update on facebook. Reyes authentically captures the FX experience to give us the same claustrophobic effect, hearing what we usually don't want to hear, cramped up in the limited spaces we have for the entire duration of the trip.

And in fact the FX travel seems like a metaphor for life itself- people come and go, some without saying goodbye, and some without even paying the fare. Just like Ramil's life, which has been dedicated all these years to finding his long-lost love, Mila (Joy Viado).

The film takes its time, allowing us to bask in the petty conversations about life, love, and everything in between. Meanwhile, cameos range from Lou Veloso to Ramon Bautista to filmmaker Siegfried Sanchez.

Aside from the assortment of stories of every passenger, we also get to look at Ramil, of how it is to be a public transport driver in a third world country, of how little he gets to take home at the end of day, and how he is also like the rest of us- with the same thoughts and feelings. I think with MNL 143, Reyes was able to make the taxi driver an iconic character in Philippine cinema. Not that it hasn't been done before, but Reyes's casting choice is just so spot on, like what Scorsese did for De Niro in TAXI DRIVER. Paule is terrific.

The story is simple as simple can be, and could very well be rubbish in lesser hands (like a film with similar treatment during the early days of Cinemalaya, whose title I won't mention) yet Reyes pulls it off with engaging storytelling and a dedication to his characters. His characters are real people with real stories, and at its core, MNL 143 is a love story in the most unconventional way possible. The third act, and how the dialogue in that scene turned out, makes all the trip worthwhile. The long wait is finally over. There goes your catharsis.



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