Blu-ray Review: Manila in the Claws of Light | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Sunday, October 17th, 2021  

Manila in the Claws of Light

Studio: Criterion

Jul 19, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

“It’s like being fried in your own fat,” a construction worker snarls in Lino Brocka’s bitter 1975 drama. He’s telling Julio (played by Rafael Roco Jr), a new hire at a dangerous construction site, about a shady business practice called “taiwan” where their bosses make the workers “buy back” their wages. Broke, desperate men sleeping in trenches when they’re not breaking their backs for a few pesos an hour, they have no power and no choices. They know they’re being fucked royally by their foreman and any word of protest will be greeted with a pink slip.

Brocka’s Manila in the Claws of Light is like an Italian Neo-Realist film set in Hell. Much like DeSica and Rossellini, Brocka is interested in exploring how modern society can act like a Rube Goldberg machine that ushers innocent people to their doom. What separates Manila from films like Umberto D is the lack of hope. The bicycle thief and his son still have each other, Umberto has his dog. By the end of Manila, Julio’s life has been stripped of any possibility of hope. Running desperately from an angry crowd, all he has left is golden hued memories of his girlfriend Ligaya (played by Hilda Koronel) before everything in their lives turned to shit.

Brocka opens his film in grainy B&W. He films a city district in The Philippines that’s teeming with busy and agitated life. Car horns blare, people whistle in the distance, pop music pipes in from all over the place. The B&W gives it the feeling of an old newsreel. As Julio enters the frame, wearing a frayed shirt with a hole stretched out under the collar, Brocka switches to color.

Julio is our focal paint in Claws of Light, a starving fisherman who’s come to the big city in search of his girlfriend. So hungry he collapses on his first day doing construction, he gets taken in by his coworkers. One of the only bright spots in Manila is how Julio’s friends and coworkers struggling in the margins of society take care of each other. Exploited by everyone on the higher rungs of the ladder, they feed each other and let them crash in their squats. It’s simultaneously a heartening depiction of worker solidarity and a damning indictment of a world in which there are no social safety nets and the only way you can get a meal is getting a poor man to split his food with you.

Brocka’s film shows us a world full of casual cruelties: the foreman who doesn’t care you got your foot crushed; the hapless coworker who gets killed by a falling beam because the bosses don’t give anyone hardhats; the johns who know their sex workers don’t want to be there but ravish them anyway.

Losing his construction site job, we fall Julio’s descent into the underworld. Sleeping in the park, he gets recruited to be a prostitute by a man who comes onto him. Sex work, begging, turning to crime: Julio hits all the desperate stations of the cross before the climax kicks in and he gets nailed to it.

Accentuating the feeling of horror that overtakes the film is its electronic score. The music bursts and blares like a John Carpenter soundtrack.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Julio’s love for Ligaya is touched on throughout the film as Julio daydreams about her. Those cuts back to their lives in their old village, a haven of iridescent greens and blues, gives us a meditative respite from the concrete hell Julio and his friends are trapped in.

Featuring a 4K digital restoration of the film, an introduction by Martin Scorsese, and documentaries on Brocka and the making of the film, Criterion’s blu-ray of Manila is an informative and visually sumptuous package. You can’t call Brocka’s film fun by any stretch, but it’s a powerful piece of film art. An unflinching depiction of the devastation capitalism can wreck on everyday people, Manila in the Claws of Light is more than just a highlight of Filipino cinema: it’s a masterpiece of world cinema.



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run 3
July 24th 2018

Sleeping in the park, he gets recruited to be a prostitute by a man who comes onto him.!!