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Manila in the Claws of Light
Manila in the Claws of Light is a often bleak and harrowing drama with romantic undertones. Directed by the acclaimed filmmaker Lino Brocka (Experience, Now) and produced by Mike De Leon (Citizen Jake) and Severino Manotok Jr. (The Rites of May), this adaptation of the novel by Edgardo focuses upon the love-sick Julio (Bembol Roco) as he searches for his love, Ligaya (Hilda Koronel), whose family arranged for her to leave their town with the promise of having a better future.
Julio traverses across towns in search of his love Ligaya Paraiso (Hilda Koronel). He soon discovers that she may not be in as good of a situation as was first mentioned to her: he realizes she may have been sold into a life of prostitution. Determined to find her and become reunited with his love, he becomes employed with a labor company which underpays its employees: each employee, trying merely to survive on wages that keep them impoverished, struggles in the bleakest sense. Julio struggles to support himself while looking for Ligaya and decides he must find other work.
Julio meets a male gigolo who befriends him and offers him residency. Before long, Julio finds himself being swayed into becoming a male prostitute for the wealthy. Although he isn't homosexual, Julio decides this is his best option in the art of getting by. It becomes a more reliable means of surviving in this impoverished environment. He uses this to help fuel his search for Ligaya. Can he become reunited with his lost love and leave behind this seedy world?
This film is a bleak and depressing experience in many regards. For one thing, it portrays a very dark underworld environment that these characters are tossed into during the story. The landscape itself is also incredibly barren and impoverished (with homes that are barely functional for truly living) and with laborers at Julio's first job being paid such poor wages many sleep in the streets without even a blanket to cover them. The depressing nature of the film is imbued into every crevice of the story. Yet the film finds some solace in its romantic storytelling between Julio and Ligaya. This is where the film finds its heart and really works wonders.
The screenplay by Clodualdo Del Mundo Jr. (Flight of an Angel, Kisapmata) is particularly strong for exploring themes of poverty and labor issues. The film has many notable sequences which explore the ways in which poverty can damage individuals and society at large. The labor division and unfair below-poverty-level wages is something which puts hard-working people into difficult lives and situations they should not have even been placed in. For a large portion of the film, this is the big thematic aspect which is explored.
The music score composed by Max Jocson (The Rites of May, Cain and Abel) is haunting and melancholic. This is one of the film's greatest attributes. The score befits the story-line. The cinematography by Mike De Leon (3rd World Hero) feels raw and visceral (almost like a documentary).
Lino Brocka makes the film a intriguing character-study and romantic-drama. The filmmaking feels highly sensitive and personal. Brocka, who witnessed much poverty and devastation in the Philippines, explores these topics with a unique approach. While Manila in the Claws of Light is not a film that is easily absorbed, its an engaging story well told and it is worthy of consideration.
Criterion has done a fantastic job with this release. The film has received an excellent 4K restoration presented in the original theatrical 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded high definition presentation is remarkably clean (without distracting print debris or damage) and has great color depth. The film's cinematography is exquisitely preserved on this release.
The audio is presented in uncompressed mono 1.0 audio. This preserves the original sound design of the film. The dialogue reproduction is excellent given the source elements and sounds crisp, clean, and well defined. The music score has good fidelity. For a mono presentation, it's surprisingly effective.
English subtitles are included.
Inside the case is a leaflet featuring an essay on the film.
On disc supplements include:
Introduction by Martin Scorsese (HD, 2 min.) about the importance of the film and it's restoration
Signed: Lino Brocka (1987) (1 Hr. 24 min.) is a feature-length documentary about the filmmaker by director Christian Blackwood. It's a exploration of the filmmaker's career and legacy.
Though the film has some interesting insights into the filmmaker's career, this documentary also has some disturbing newsreel footage. Please take note of this information. A warning should have been provided by Criterion for this release.
Manila: A Filipino Film (23 min.) is a short 1975 documentary about the making of the film.
Challenging the Viewer (19 min.) is an interview with film critic and filmmaker Tony Rayns discussing the film and director Lino Brocka's provocative style.
Manila in the Claws of Light, which filmmaker Martin Scorsese helped to restore with his film project, is considered an important classic from the prolific filmmaker Lino Brocka. Criterion has done a good job with this 4K restoration. The film is often bleak and disturbing but the story is well told. It's not an easy watch, by any means, but it's still a rewarding experience.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.