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Fantasia 2018 Review: “Neomanila” (2017) ★★★★


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Each country has its own painful story to share. Though some exaggeration may take place to gain political advantage, but that is something history will judge. Movies like “Neomanila”  are important for us to get more educated about the other part of the world and have some idea of what did or might have happened within the same country. You might say everything being told practically in this movie is pure fiction. In fact, it is. But its concept is what’s relevant, and I am afraid, is a dreadful reality being faced by people who we will never be lucky enough to meet in person.

“Neomanila” is set in a Dystopian Manila where corruption, an authoritarian regime, extrajudicial killings and police lawlessness is what the ordinary people have to face on a daily basis. Toto, like the majority of people in his country, is from a very poor background. He had to betray his gang to negotiate the bail of his brother, who can be released from prison on a conditional term. While that term is unreal to achieve, the young man joins a group of two assassins, Irma and Raul, who take the lives of other people based on the government’s request. As he tries to learn the basic of his, most likely, future job, his hands will shake, his mind will shatter and there will be more questions than answers. But no matter what, Toto realizes the importance of playing by the rules and being part of the change, even if that change might be fatal.

“Neomanila”, co-written by Zig Madamba Dulay, Michail Red and Rae Red while being directed by Mikhail Red is a fine action drama from Philippines that does not mind opening up the wounds of the country through the silver screen and digs deep into corruption, vulnerability of minority and the ease the same government feels when it comes to sentencing people they don’t like to death without proper trial or verdict. Toto is a smart man, but has no choice but to join Irma and Raul. As the story unfolds, you see how fast he changes, but that change is never worth it. He realizes that he must stick to Raul and Irma if he wants to survive, but he is also smart enough to understand there is no permanent peace in the chaos he lives, and that at some point the time will come for him to choose which way he wants to go.

Mikhail Red, perhaps, did leave the emotional part of the storyline aside on purpose. Even though some scenes are quite touching or disturbing, you still want to be a bit cautious just in case, because it’s not easy to predict the ending. But with movies like this, there’s no need to. It’s almost like sailing in the ocean in a direction only your boat knows. In the end, full of solid performances, “Neomanila” is a decent piece worth seeing. It will trigger, I am sure, a debate after you watch it, because again, everything you will be seeing in it is just the mirror reflection of a society that is weak enough to tell the real truth of the nightmare the poorest part of the country goes through every day.

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