Storytelling and docu-realism blend seamlessly in Ralston G. Jover’s emotionally charged “Children Metal Divers.” Applying an almost classical neorealist treatment to the raw material of kids who live by their wits in Manila’s largest squatter colony, the film balances the aesthetic rigors of Filipino indie cinema with audience-grabbing hooks. A lively festival tour should give distribs time to weigh pic’s commercial potential.
The simple story by Jover and co-writer Henry C. Burgos depicts a close group of boys who dive daily for metal scraps in Manila’s dangerous bay waters, vigilant against guards and police who try to detain them, but excited when they return home with booty, however meager. At the center of this basic world of survival is little sparkplug Utoy (Meljun Ginto, a born performer) and his big buddy Bungal (Vincent Olano), who has taken the pipsqueak under his wing. At the same time, it’s the more rational Utoy who dismisses Bungal’s fears about boy-snatching mythical mermaids swimming the local waters.
The discovery of a large anchor (captured in effective underwater photography) looks to be a jackpot for the boys, but tragedy is never too far away, as Utoy gradually comes to experience. It’s this slow dawning of his radically changed life that makes the film seem less like a melodrama and more like a tale about the impact of human loss.
Jover is clearly influenced by Brilliante Mendoza’s talent for balancing humanist stories and real-time cinema, and even casts Gina Pareno (from Mendoza’s “Serbis”) as the only truly sympathetic adult figure. “Divers’?” athletic handheld lensing also recalls Khavn’s “Squatterpunk,” set in the same shantytown settlement, but here used in the service of a drama with real emotional impact.
Only Pareno is asked to deliver a conventional performance in a film that otherwise blurs the line between role-playing and being one’s self. Ruben H. Dela Cruz’s nimble mobile camera maximizes the sense of realism, while Teresa Barrozo’s rhythmic score is tastefully underplayed.