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  • Benjamin May

Manila in the Claws of Light (1975) Review

It is the 1970's and Julio is a young man from the island of Marinduque. Searching for his long-lost girlfriend Ligaya, he travels to Manila, the capital of the Philippines. While there, he takes whatever work he can find; being constantly short-changed by the callousness and avarice of the Marcos regime. Struggling to survive on the cutthroat streets of the concrete jungle, he encounters the best and worst of humanity, and the boundaries of his dignity are tested. Whether or not Julio finds Ligaya, and if the two of them escape the city unscathed, remains to be seen in Lino Brocka's 'Manila in the Claws of Light.'


A powerfully understated film, 'Manila in the Claws of Light' is based on the novel 'In the Claws of Brightness' by Edgardo Reyes, with a screenplay from Clodualdo Del Mundo Jr. Gritty and moving, the story presents a sadly realistic portrait of extreme poverty that will resonate with many. The film serves as a barbed commentary on the corruption and insensitivity of the Filipino government of the 70's, as well as a thoughtful allegory of how the innocent can be corrupted by the iniquity of urban life. It is unremitting and occasionally quite hard to watch; though always impossible to ignore.

Superbly, subtly written, 'Manila in the Claws of Light' is also visually alluring. Mike de Leon's restrained, evocative cinematography is stunning, capturing beautifully the hectic street life of Manila. At times, he shoots the film similarly to a documentary, heightening the realism of the subject matter. During flashback sequences, his approach becomes more romantic and stylized, lending those scenes additional tone and power. Throughout the picture his work under Brocka's direction is inventive and striking; and many of his shots linger in the mind long after the credits have rolled.


The film features a score from Max Jocson which is deeply atmospheric and- if you don't mind the term- very 70's and full of catchy synthesized melodies. Also worthy of note is Ike Jarlego Jr and Edgardo Jarlego's editing, which is seamless and intuitive. The movie has a steady pace that never falters; even in scenes of contemplation or high drama. Additionally, Ricardo De Guzman's production design is rich and textured, contributing to the gritty visual aesthetic established by de Leon's cinematography.

'Manila in the Claws of Light' features a cast performing at the top of their games. Rafael Roco Jr.- also known as Bembol Roco- stars as Julio, delivering a strong performance of intelligence and emotional depth. He has the audiences' sympathy right from the start, and never loses it. Hilda Koronel is somewhat underutilized as Ligaya, though steals the few scenes she's in completely; and may just break your heart in one of them. Lou Salvador Jr does impressive work in the supporting role of Atong, as does Joonee Gamboa as the character Omeng. All underplay their parts, staying true to the tone of naturalism that runs throughout the film.


A haunting piece of cinema, 'Manila in the Claws of Light' is an accomplished piece of work in every regard. Sad, poignant and realistic, it offers viewers an unfettered view of extreme poverty and ennui in the city. Powerful and subtle both, with a story that is devastatingly true to life and full of social commentary, the film is well-acted, masterfully directed by Lino Brocka and boasts fine cinematography from Mike de Leon. In short, 'Manila in the Claws of Light' is an affecting, absorbing film unlikely to be forgotten by any who see it.

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