Manila in the Claws of Light (1975)

  • Year: 1975
  • Released: 16 Jul 1975
  • Country: Philippines
  • Adwords: 8 wins & 2 nominations
  • IMDb:
  • Rotten Tomatoes:
  • Metacritics:
  • Available in: 720p, 1080p,
  • Language: Filipino, Tagalog, English
  • MPA Rating: TV-14
  • Genre: Drama, Mystery
  • Runtime: 125 min
  • Writer: Edgardo Reyes, Clodualdo Del Mundo Jr.
  • Director: Lino Brocka
  • Cast: Hilda Koronel, Bembol Roco, Lou Salvador Jr.
  • Keywords: worker, slum, loss of loved one, brothel, male prostitute, poverty,
100% – Critics
86% – Audience

Manila in the Claws of Light Storyline

Julio Madiaga, a simple fisherman from the province, travels to Manila to find Ligaya, the woman he loves, who went away with a mysterious woman who promised her a better future in the City. When he arrives, he becomes immersed in the city lifestyle and gets involved with its inhabitants, experiencing extreme poverty, hard luck, and the overbearing need to grind for daily sustenance. While Julio relentlessly searches for Ligaya, the city changes him little by little, and he becomes like an animal doomed to live only for survival in a wild, inescapable jungle.—Terrence16

Manila in the Claws of Light Photos

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Manila in the Claws of Light Movie Reviews

Absorbing & Affecting

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.

Julio’s journey through hell….

Lino Brocka’s masterful study of a man’s loss of innocence is a centerpiece of great Filipino cinema. The tale of young innocents traveling to the infamous city of Manila, and losing their way, has been told countless times, but “Manila: In the Claws of Neon” was the first, and this unflinching look at urban decay must have shocked people at the time. Bembol Roco is heartbreaking in his role as the small-town laborer who travels to Manila in search of his beautiful girlfriend, who has vanished without a word. With his baby face and puppy dog eyes, he conveys the image of the ultimate naive youth, and Hilda Koronel possesses the same pure quality, as his lost love, Ligaya.

Once in the clutches of the decadent metropolis, Julio is forced to either let go of his innocence, or be swallowed up by the ruthless, hardened characters around him. This same theme returns in Brocka’s equally powerful “Insiyag.” ‘Maynila’ is more than a study of lost innocence, of course. It is also an honest look at third World poverty, and the desperation that causes people to do things that they might not do otherwise, in order to survive. One of the film’s most harrowing scenes features a scared and sickened Julio, lured into working at a sleazy male whorehouse. The character is obviously not homosexual, and being forced into having sex with men is the beginning of his own personal demise. The bloody, shocking climax of this film is one of the most memorable disturbing set pieces in film, and was borrowed from heavily, by Martin Scorsese a year later for his classic “Taxi Driver.” Viewed back to back it becomes evident as the scenes in the hallway of the dark apartment tenement are virtually identical. Brocka’s vision came first, too bad so few people are not aware of this beautiful film. Thought to be lost, due to improper storage of the film, this has surfaced on the internet, which is where i was able to finally see it. This one, and some other Filipino films are long overdue for restored DVD releases. If you can find it, see it.

Tragic warts and all look at Manilla in the 1970s

As always with a film like Manila in thr Claws of Light, context counts above all. This is a story that has a setting in the Phillipenes of poverty and a crushing sense of ‘got to get by on the skin of my teeth’, not to mention the exploitation of… Everyone, whether it be through work by day, by night, human and sex trafficking, the works (only drugs seem to be absent here, but im sure where were on the margins if not out in the open). The sense of repression in this society makes Italian neo-realist cinema seen quaint, and that is a strength of Brocka’s film because he is putting up a lens through how he sees it: this is horrible, this is punishing, and the only thing that can be a light is if people care about one another.

Though the thrust of the story is if Julio will find his beloved Ligaya in Manila, we dont get to that resolution until two thirds of the way into the film. Primarily this is about how someone who is an outsider to the city as Julio is from a seaside village (though still very much of the culture and time and place), and so we are also those outsiders. This is not meant to be a subtle trip – the horrible boss of the construction workers, being paid 2.50 a day but on paper it’s 4, often is munching on a cigar and has the boss ethic of any given sweatshop in history – but thats not really a detriment. We believe this setting because we believe the people. I assume most of these players are not professionals, and they do well under Brocak’s direction and tight budget. So when Julio is out in the streets, or outside the building where hes mostly certain Ligaya is being stowed away, it doesn’t feel like we are seeing something so set apart from a reality we can see. On the contrary, this is poverty and thr decimation of working class people everywhere.

Though criticism of the Marcos regime is not explicitly stated, it doesnt have to be. It’s implicit in how so many of the people Julio comes across are mistreated (and of course some corrupt cops here and there who make no bones about stealing money and walking away help along the struggles), and of course for the women exploitation in the world of prostitution is exploitation of workers (just happens to be sex). Julio is as close as we can get to a moral compass – while his coworkers go one by one with a Booker he refuses, despite the pressure from the pump, for example – and his visions of the past are what he clings to. He doesnt see any life for himself without her, which makes for a good goal for the story, but is also his weakness – he loves this woman so much that nothing else can change for himself.

If I had a nit to pick some of the flashbacks, while effective when done in sorr of subliminal ways, become frequent to the point of repetition because what else would there be to put in this cut or scene (or it may be the flashbacks themselves don’t vary, it’s just the same image of Ligaya in the beach). And yet my one criticism is addressed in a way by the time the movie gets to her and the two are reunited. So many scenes, in scene after scene, almost it feels like a pattern deliberately where the idea is, “THIS is what is happening to this overworked/underpaid/tragic person being exploited by the ruling classes,” and while it could easily dip into propaganda I dont see this as some negative in that Brocka’s passion and intensity as a filmmaker, the commitment to realism, takes away a feeling of “this is an *agenda* as it”s about these people who exist. But all these scenes are really leading up to Ligaya, who was exploitated just about the worst of all – in one long take that seems to last for about seven or eight minutes, she tells her story to Julio in a bedroom, and it’s wise to not cut away. We are here listening to her story, and unlike at other points there is no cutting away; we have to picture this for ourselves.

This is a sad and depressing story, but I didnt feel like it is a giant let down to watch because of the anthropological nature of how it’s presented and how the melodrama escalates so believably. As Scorsese says in the intro on the criterion disc, this is a movie made for the people.