Director: Lino Brocka
Running time: 123 minutes
Synopsis and Evaluation
In conversations regarding the best Filipino film of all time, lots of titles pop up. Some would say Oro, Plata, Mata by Peque Gallaga. Others would mention Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos by Mario O’Hara. And then some would claim that such honor should be bestowed upon Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (Manila in the Claws of Light) by the legendary Lino Brocka. This film is quite possibly the most famous piece of Philippine cinema abroad having been considered as one of the 100 best films worldwide by notable critics.
I only got to see this after three decades of its initial release. During those three decades, a lot of things have already happened. Our country had already seated four presidents, three People Power revolutions and elongated its national debt by massive proportions.
Did things change from how Maynila described the life back then to how the Philippines is today? Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding no.
Maynila is the story of Julio Madiaga’s (Bembol Roco) journeys while wandering and living in the streets of Manila. He came from the province to look for her girlfriend in the person of Ligaya Paraiso (Hilda Koronel) which was lured by a certain Mrs. Cruz to work in Manila in exchange for money and education. During his search for Ligaya, Julio stumbled upon various experiences that perfectly describe the rottenness and wretchedness of our society. The film has that certain episodic feel since it tackled many different social issues prevalent in our country.
During the first part of the film, we see Julio working in a construction site where he only earns P2.50 per eight hours of work. He is not compensated enough for a strenuous and risky job. Adding insult to the injury, he later learned that he should get four pesos for his troubles but the foreman already sequestered the difference. He cannot complain because his job will be in jeopardy the moment he does so.
Sounds familiar? Surely it does since the problems tackled by Maynila three decades ago still linger in our present society. It seems that nothing ever changes.
Take the case of Ligaya which was duped and became a libido-releasing creature of a monstrous Chinese businessman in Binondo. She can’t escape because the bastard impregnated her and threatened that he would kill her the moment she tried to. This is similar to those young women being promised a comfortable life by recruiters and then will be “sold” like a commodity — heinous, soulless people that deserve the fire and brimstone of hell. Poverty, corporate greed and slavery, prostitution (both male and female), human exploitation, injustices are some of the problems shown in Maynila.
These gloomy stories are set against a backdrop of barren soils, contaminated drainages, garbage-filled lands and slums — perfect to describe the filthy and ugly side of our country. These shots are breathtaking — breathtakingly painful, suffocating and depressing. Brocka painted the picture of our society with power, emphasis and dismal energy that is crying for help and attention.
I can compare this film to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Julio, like Travis in Taxi Driver, is a gentle and ignorant person that was slowly devoured by what he sees on the environment around him. At first, they are still absorbing the cruelty of the real world but a countless barrage of murky events around took its toll on them and made them do things out of character.
But allow me to emphasize that Maynila is a far stronger film than the Scorsese classic. And Julio, unlike Travis, suffered a tragic ending which is a more powerful and emphatic way of showing the miserable life of a person such as Julio. Maynila’s ending is shocking, poignant, angry, emphatic and memorable.
The Final Word
During the dangerous time that is the Marcos regime, Brocka crafted a film with a lot of courage. This is a brave endeavor that deserves all the accolades it is receiving up to now. This is one of the films that makes me proud as a Filipino — a masterpiece in every sense of the word. This is a required viewing.