19 April 2017



I'm so glad that I had the chance to see these two films. They're the work of Filipino director Lino Brocka (1939-1991), whom I'm ashamed to say I hadn't previously heard of. His films have been largely unavailable on DVD and Blu-Ray up to now, however, so maybe it's not my fault that I was unaware of his oeuvres, haha.

Anyway, thanks to Martin Scorsese's (yes, THAT Martin Scorsese!) World Cinema Project, the two films widely regarded as Lino Brocka's finest works, INSIANG and MANILA IN THE CLAWS OF LIGHT, have been rescued from obscurity and restored in 4K.

Now, I don't really know what the 4K bit means but I do know that these two films are completely different to anything I've ever seen before in my life, and I mean that in a good way. Let me see if I can tell you about them in such a way that does them justice.

I watched the later movie first, INSIANG, the first Filipino film ever to be shown at the prestigious Cannes Film FestivalInsiang is a really beautiful young Filipino woman who should have had the whole world at her feet. 

Unfortunately, she was born poor in the slums of Manila and that makes all the difference. She should have been adored, worshipped by men, a princess. Instead, she's condemned to a life of misery and drudgery in her home town.

She lives with her Mum in a tiny house with no privacy that can only be properly described as a shack. Some of the wall panels look like they're made out of cardboard. I wouldn't be surprised if they were. I don't think there's even a proper toilet. They make room dividers out of sheets and they both, Insiang and her Mum, work like dogs doing laundry for other people.

Insiang has a troubled relationship with her mother, a woman who's been shaped by her hard and miserable life. Her hubby's buggered off with another woman, leaving her to fend for both herself and her daughter in an area that's so overcrowded that every single bit of space is already taken up. The shanty-town they live in is crammed beyond capacity. There's fierce competition for every breath of air they manage to snatch there.

Jobs, food, money, clothing are all hard to come by, by the looks of things. Scrimping, scraping and slaving till all hours are the order of the day (and night). It's made Insiang's mother hard, unloving and unforgiving.

She doesn't trust her daughter farther than she can throw her, likening her to her absentee father and accusing her of 'whoring around' like he did. Insiang does have a boyfriend, Bebot, but when the chips are well and truly down, he turns out to be not up to much. Quelle surprise.

Insiang and her mother fight and argue a lot, especially when the Mum brings a younger lover into the house to live with her. This guy, Dado, has 'sleaze-bag' written all over him. Naturally, he starts sniffing around the beautiful Insiang straightaway.

A shocking incident between the two of them, Insiang and Dado, puts the mother in the position of having to choose which of the two she'll believe. The sleazy Dado (he of the manky see-through underpants) or the daughter she thinks is a whore...? Her decision will have far-reaching consequences for all three of them and leaves Insiang thirsting for revenge...

The terrible poverty, over-crowding and desperation in the Philippines are even more evident in MANILA IN THE CLAWS OF LIGHT. This film tells the story of Julio, a young orphaned man who leaves home to go to the big city of Manila to search for his girlfriend.

His girlfriend Ligaya Paraiso (isn't that a gorgeous name?) is played by the actress who portrays Insiang in the other film, Hilda Coronel. Ligaya was lured away to the big city from their hometown by a much older woman called Mrs. Cruz, who promised Ligaya and her female friends factory work and time to study at night if they'd come with her to Manila.

When I heard that, the first thought that sprung to my head was this: 'They're all prostitutes now...!' In fact, it's even worse than that but that's for you guys to find out for yourselves, I'm not about to spoil it for ye. But the trials and tribulations that Julio has to undergo before he even finds Ligaya are worthy of mention also.

The building-site he gets work on is a disgrace. Julio and the other labourers are treated like shit by the owner. Julio gets paid two and a half pesos per day, that's when he gets paid at all, because sometimes they don't. 

On his first day of work, he faints with hunger on the job. Workers often get killed on the job because it's dangerous work but they just get dragged away and someone else is put in their place. Life is cheap to the big bosses.

Some of the poorer workers, including Julio, sleep on the building-site and cook their meagre meals of rice there too. Sometimes, they share the services of a prostitute there as well, which is handy. All their basic needs catered for on-site, as it were...!

The loss of his job leads Julio to take a gig as a 'call-boy' out of sheer desperation. These scenes clearly show us what it's like to be sexually degraded in a situation where you're so poor and hungry that you feel like you don't have a choice in the matter. We've seen plenty of films where women have to do this. It was interesting to see it from the male point of view for a change.

One thing I noticed about this film was that Julio at least had some good male friends whose floors he could kip on and who might be good for a bowl of rice in hard times. The women in both films, however, both Insiang and Ligaya, are pretty much on their own, with no such comradely back-up to count on. The guys all stick together, whereas the women are judged and shunned when they're in trouble. Just like in real life, so...!

These two utterly superb, eye-opening films by a marvellous director who died much too young 
are out now in a lovely Dual Format Edition courtesy of the British Film Institute, and they've been lovingly restored as well, don't forget. 

They'd be a brilliant pressie for anyone who loves World Cinema or who just wants to watch something challenging for a change instead of the usual tripe that's polluting our mainstream cinemas at the moment. Sorry, sorry, that's the film snob in me coming out...!

Speaking of which, I'll leave you with this anecdote. A friend of mine was on a bus a few years ago, listening to two girls nearby talking about a film one of them had just seen, apparently the best bloody film in the history of cinema ever, bar none.

What was this wonderful film, my friend wondered curiously, this marvellous movie that deserved to be seen by every living soul on the planet? Was it CITIZEN KANE, CASABLANCA, THE THIRD MAN, THE BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN, what? The answer:



Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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