Manila In The Claws Of Light

For the first of this months BFI releases the focus is on the cinema of the Philippines. Lino Brocka is regarded as one of the most significant directors in the history of Filipino cinema. So it came as something of a surprise that his films were not widely available in a decent format for general viewing. It took the World Cinema Foundation’s efforts to obtain and restore two of his films from the 1970’s. The movies, Manila in the Claws Of Light and Insiang have been now issued as part of a BFI Blu-Ray release under the title Two Films by Lino Brocka.

Manila In The Claws Of Light centres around Julio (Bembol Roco). He is in Manila on an extended search for his girlfriend Ligaya (Hilda Koronel). She was tempted away from their costal village by a woman who claimed to be able to provide work and education for girls in Manila. After Ligaye departed contact was lost with her forcing Julio on his quest. He is forced to take on labouring work when his money was stolen and splits his time between the work and the continuing search.

This is a damning commentary on the Philippines in the 1970’s. Everywhere that Julio goes he is confronted with the worst aspects of the city and is people. The places he works are like a microcosms of the city. There is a real sense of community with the workers. They all help each other out with food, shelter and financial support. When Julio first arrives at the building site he is in such a state due to lack of food that he passes out. His fellow workers show him some human kindness with a little food and make him a part of the team. In contrast to this, the work and the management are the opposite. They are unreasonable, harsh and totally corrupt.

The film charts the journey of the character of Julio. when we first meet him he is not the innocent from the country, but he is not too far from it. It has taken the theft of his reserves of cash to make him a little harder in his outlook. He still has a sprit of optimism about him but it is fairly obvious that it won’t last forever. As he moves from one job to another and makes progress with his search for Ligaya we see him become a different person. He is exposed to the life of a male escort (called call-boys) when he is out of money and accommodation. His manner starts to change and there are a couple of times when he uses his fists and it looks like he won’t be able to stop himself before going too far.

The cinematography from Mike De Leon really adds to the mood of the story. The filming took place entirely on location within the city. This adds to the feeling of oppression within the dirty and cramped conditions. The emphasis is on the squalor and the way people are forced to live. There is nowhere for a person to be at peace in the city. Julio’s way out is to daydream about an idealised version of his home in the costal village. Every time he flashes back it is to a place that is warm and bright with blue water and a certain calmness. The film is notable for its sound. There is very little in the way of accompanying soundtrack. The only thing we hear is the background noise of an overcrowded city or a building site in the throes of fevered construction.



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