Before Brillante Mendoza made a splash in Cannes, there was Raymond Red. He is one of the pioneers of the alternative cinema movement in the Philippines. He is also the only Filipino so far who have won the Palme d’Or, the highest honor in Cannes, for his short film Anino. After a nine-year hiatus, Raymond Red returns with his latest full-length feature Manila Skies.
Inspired by true events, Manila Skies follows three days in the life of Raul (Raul Arellano), a man who has exhausted all of his luck. In these three days, Raul will feel what it’s like to be living in the margins of society deprived of a means of living and of hope. In a desperate attempt to help his sick father in the province, he joins a group of amateur robbers. But when the heist ends terribly wrong, he decides to hijack a plane that will be his coup de grace.
Lead actor Raul Arellano embodies what his role asks for. He is recurrently antsy, a bit loony, and ill tempered. This antihero is difficult to warm to, but we know where he is coming from. We know what drives him to dive headfirst into a world of crime. But he did not turn into a criminal overnight. In fact, it took Crispin (John Arcilla) long stretches of monologue to convince him to take life by the horns. All Raul wants is to go home, but desperation (and maybe lunacy) takes him farther than his original destination.
The gang of first-time robbers (composed of John Arcilla as Crispin, Soliman Cruz as Juan, Raul Morit as Morit, and Karlo Altomonte as Karlo) provides a breather to the tension with their quirky one-liners. Beneath their funny antics, these street urchins articulate some serious matters – the disparity in the system and the social injustice that beset the working class. Meanwhile, the who’s who of independent cinema appears in small and cameo roles. We have Sue Prado, Che Ramos, Archie Adamos, Mon Confiado, Flor Salanga, Noni Buencamino, Lav Diaz, and Ronnie Lazaro.
If you know the true-to-life story that inspired the screenplay, then you already know the fate of our deranged protagonist. But there’s more to the ending than knowing Raul’s fate, Raymond Red weaves an intricate story that comes in full circle at the end. He makes use of all the hints he dropped along the way – the beginning sequence of father and son, Raul collecting protest signs, and Raul sewing every night – and everything starts making sense.
Manila Skies does not make excuses for the wrongdoings of Raul. The film doesn’t even demand that we understand him. Because he is not a victim, the disparity in the system and social injustice are not to be blamed for his actions. He had a choice. And so, karma rears its ugly head and Raul is brought to his final destination.