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Life on the Tracks

From the first astonishing shots of men, women and children casually moving their belongings from the railroad tracks seconds in front of an onrushing train, helmer Ditsi Carolino makes the viewer feel completely at home in what should be the most alien of environments. Docu about poverty gives feel-good movies a whole new meaning.

With:
With: Eddie and Pen Renomeron. (Filipino dialogue)

A correction was made to this review on Aug. 7, 2003.

From the first astonishing shots of men, women and children casually moving their belongings from the railroad tracks seconds in front of an onrushing train, helmer Ditsi Carolino makes the viewer feel completely at home in what should be the most alien of environments. Focused on a couple, Eddie and Pen Renomeron, pic settles into the rhythm of life along the tracks in Manila with a friendly intimacy that never feels intrusive. Thoroughly engrossing docu about extreme poverty that gives feel-good movies a whole new meaning, “Tracks” has a good shot at cable sales.

Eddie is a duck-egg vendor, and Pen works for pennies doing laundry. Together, they barely manage to eke out a living for themselves and their five kids. Pen nags non-stop, worried about Eddie’s alcoholism and about the family’s survival should she succumb to the cancer which has already claimed one breast. Eddie is impervious to negativity. Making jokes, teasing his wife, his happy-go-lucky acceptance and feckless good humor complement her micro-managing anxiety.

Squeezed into a doorless shack, the family’s seven members rub along remarkably well. (Indeed, it’s only in the closing credits that viewers learn that three of the couple’s children were adopted after their mother was hit by a train.) Pic’s sole dramatic arc concerns the imminent demolition of their home, forcing them to move across the tracks, which will increase their rent.

Eddie’s nighttime rounds selling duck eggs in the city show him stopping to share gossip, drinks and harmless flirtations.

But pic rarely strays from the community of the tracks. Various wheeled conveyances — everything from kids on single makeshift boards to multi-passenger vehicles — race along the tracks, picked up or tipped over at regular intervals to allow the trains to speed by. Cook fires burn inches from the hurtling cars, and the huts that line the tracks as far as the eye can see are built only a few feet away. Chickens peck between the ties, kids play in the railed “street” and people take turns at the Karaoke mike, belting out American standards.

Tech credits are excellent. Carolino and co-lenser Buxani infuse the DV image with a palette of day and night tones to capture the richness of a multi-textured environment, while Peter Marquez’s sound recording retains remarkable clarity through complex layers of source sound.

Life on the Tracks

U.K.-Philippines

Production: A National Film and Television School production. Produced, directed by Ditsi Carolino.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), Carolino, Nana Buxani; editor, Valerio Bonelli; sound, Peter Marquez; assistant director, Buxani. Reviewed at Human Rights Watch Festival, New York, June 21, 2003. Running time: 69 MIN.

With: With: Eddie and Pen Renomeron. (Filipino dialogue)

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