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MNL 143 (Emerson Reyes, 2012) July 14, 2012

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinemalaya, Noypi.

Written by Emerson Reyes and Ade Perillo
Directed by Emerson Reyes
Cast: Allan Paule, Joy Viado, Gardo Versoza, Che Ramos 

The best thing about MNL 143 is that Emerson Reyes is able to finish it. Despite the turn of events after its disqualification from Cinemalaya, he managed to raise money, hire the actors and crew he wanted, and complete the movie as he deemed fit. The worst thing about it is that the outcome, preceded by hype and expectations, is awfully lackluster. The disappointment is purely based on the weakness of its storytelling: the movie is unable to build a strong emotional core and falls into the trap of mistaking simplicity for emptiness. Had Reyes tried to take a leap and deliver the story it promised well on paper, he could have achieved something remarkable, not only for himself but also for the community that fought for his freedom of choice. Regrettably, MNL 143 displays a lack of ambition that can easily be confused with modesty, failing to strike a chord and take notice of the city that it wears proudly on its sleeve.

For a narrative that uses a device to take advantage of the many characters it brings together, the material should at least make the viewer curious. Commonplace issues of FX passengers are fine as long as their telling is motivated by a kind of inconsequence that stirs and creates a ripple effect—a movement that is faint at first sight but becomes perceptible as the film progresses. Sadly, Reyes does not encourage that setup to happen. He allows his characters to carry their stories and let them be known; however, there is no crucial dramatic arc that links them, no water that runs through that provides a nice flow. A number of stories start and end without any foothold on the past, sounding so written and perfunctory that they crash and burn upon delivery. As a viewer it’s like eavesdropping on people and realizing that you already know what they’re talking about: it validates the story but it doesn’t make it any more interesting. The only connection among the characters is the FX ride, not the everyday struggle of making it through the day alive and at ease, which could have made the token portraits more effective.

Making up for the lack of spontaneity and texture is the romance between Ramil, the FX driver, and Mila, the girlfriend he lost when he worked overseas. In what seems to be the handy slice of cake near the end of the movie, Mila becomes Ramil’s passenger, and the two engage in a conversation they have long wanted to have. Mila is now a widow, and as their sides are explained, it is obvious that Ramil is the only one holding onto their past. She’s content with her present life, but he wants her back. Several hours before they meet, he looked at her picture and cried inside the vehicle. It’s a flimsy scene that anticipates their meeting, handled absentmindedly and without interest, helpful in establishing his purpose but lacking in punch to drive the narrative into a tunnel of certainty. Ramil and Mila’s encounter could have provided some sort of deliverance from the monotony that permeates all throughout, but even this dramatic peak is conveyed unremarkably, bereft of something magical, of a warm and touching feeling that situations like this call for. The movie aspires so much to be artless and unsophisticated that it ends up dull, dry, and dreary.

On top of everything else, for a piece of work that considers itself deserving of the name of the city in its title, that city has been set aside. Yes, the commute from Buendia to Fairview shows Metro Manila—the poor infrastructure, the noisy streets, the polluted surroundings, and the cramped space in which people find themselves stuck—but the city, regardless of its peripheral presence, is never shown to be of any significance. It acts like a standee: it’s there, you see it, but it’s only a cardboard representation of the real thing. The most obvious question Reyes does not answer is: why is Manila special? Where is the relationship between the city and its characters? MNL 143 misses its context and subtexts, carrying on until its fuel runs out: a mere short distance, a few meters the farthest. It could have been set elsewhere and spared Manila the trouble of being given a tiny compliment, but it decides to show its toothless grin. It is proof that good intentions, however humbly they are expressed, are always inclined to mislead.



1. Chin (@ChinPossible) - July 16, 2012

You had me at “community that fought for his freedom of choice.” A community, myself included, stood behind this film not because its concept bowled me over but because it stood up against an institution that needed bearding. “What a brave little film,” I thought then, thinking that Emerson Reyes has cojones. Imagine my bewilderment when I saw MNL 143 listed as the closing film for an event labeled “Cinemalaya Invades UP”. I really hope that was a hallucination–it’d be a colossal betrayal of community otherwise.

2. Richard Bolisay - July 16, 2012

I understand. But more than the controversies that surrounded it, the film should be able to stand on its own. It did and it could, but sadly it’s all fluff.

3. ARCHIE DEL MUNDO (@archiedelmundo) - July 19, 2012

ang lakas maka-mixed review!

whether emerson and mnl 143 like it or not, they will forever be the posterboy[s?] of bravery, passion, and determination. since year 1, madami nang dumanas ng ganito, pero siya lang ang nagtagumpay for actually producing it himself and even preceding the unmentionable festival
it stood on its ground and became the film it’s supposed to be – and not just mere “a film that should have been” :)))

4. Richard Bolisay - July 19, 2012

As I said, that’s the most admirable thing about it — that Emerson managed to finish it. People should also be able to see right past the issues and put them to rest in order to give credit where credit is due.

5. sunshine - July 24, 2012

arnel mardoquio also finished his film and even won awards for it. though he did not get officially disqualified, it was very much like what happened with emerson’s film.

what i like about what emerson did is it actually produced “results” or something to that effect – the resignation of nes jardin and robbie tan would follow (though they say it’s really not because of the controversy), and a discussion on how cinemalaya is being run.

a lot are saying this may be the last cinemalaya. i’d like to think not – especially when things are actually starting to change. if this becomes the last cinemalaya, sayang yung pinaglaban ni emerson (in my opinion).

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