Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (Manila in the Claws of Light): Movie Review

Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag - Bembol Roco
Even with its age, "Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag" ("Manila in the Claws of Light") stays relevant not only because it has memorable performances or a powerful narrative to tell but with its intimate and honest look into 1970s Manila. In particular, how it is a society rapidly transitioning into a more modern era that is both ruthless and ugly - not unlike what we are still experiencing today.

Julio Madiaga (Bembol Roco) arrives in Manila in search of his missing childhood sweetheart Ligaya Paraiso (Hilda Koronel). Ligaya was lured into the city by a certain Mrs. Cruz (Juling Bagalbago) promising her a good paying job with lodging and free education. But when Mrs. Cruz informs Ligaya's mother that Ligaya left and ran away, this prompts Julio to do something drastic. Now months after his arrival and almost out of cash, Julio lands a job at a construction site and starts to learn about the harsh realities of the urban jungle.
Manila in the Claws of Light - Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag
There are a lot of factors that astound when watching "Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag". In its film elements alone, the movie is compelling with fleshed out performances not only from Bembol Roco but from the various characters he meets up along the way. These performances feel authentic even if some of these characters only last for a few scenes. The direction is also something to behold with Brocka controlling the pacing of the story that had us hooked from start to finish. Even the script is full of material with subtle social commentaries hidden within the conversations and dialogues. The cinematography never relents with transitions from both the beautiful and the ugly sceneries of the city. It is a great film in its own right but what really makes "Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag" a pinnacle of Philippine cinema is its meaty and no-holds-barred focus on what modernity has done and may still do to the principles and innocence of society. Characters will struggle in this film and there's really no fairy tale ending here. Some will find success but most will end up in a cruel downhill spiral to their demise. These are mostly dreams that eventually turn into nightmares. It is a grim look indeed but it also makes it more real, more in tune to what we always have to contend with every single day. Sadly, this was made as a commentary of 70s Manila but we can still see that not much has changed four decades after.
Manila in the Claws of Light - Bembol Roco
Rating: 5 reels

Why you should watch it:
- this is a historical and relevant look into Manila's beauty and ugly side back in the 70s and even now

Why you shouldn't watch it:
- the film has a lot of side plots that feel rushed

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