by Jodesz Gavilan
A towering statue of a filmmaker stood near the entrance of the theater. As the clock ticked closer to 7 p.m., passersby stopped to take pictures with the statue—a life-size stone image of Lino Brocka.
The excitement is palpable – after 35 years, a Brocka masterpiece considered as one of the greatest Filipino films now returns to the big screen.
After being showcased during this year’s Cannes International Film Festival, Lino Brocka’s digitally-restored Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag was brought back home last July 6 to the University of the Philippines, his alma mater.
Guests were treated to an invitational Philippine premiere at the UP Film Institute’s Cine Adarna. A number of well-known personalities graced the event to celebrate one of the National Artist’s greatest works, including some who worked with him, like the film’s producer and cinematographer Mike De Leon and lead actor Bembol Roco.
But if there is one person who is the happiest of them all, it’s none other than his brother, Danny Brocka, who said words of gratitude in behalf of their family.
“Walang katapusang pasasalamat sa pagbibigay ninyo ng halaga sa mga ambag niya (Lino Brocka) sa pelikula na kapupulutan ng aral sa mga nangyayari sa tunay na buhay sa ating lipunan na ginagalawan (I cannot thank you enough for acknowledging (Lino Brocka’s) contributions to the film industry, which are full of lessons about the reality of the society we live in), ” he said.
According to the younger Brocka, the 1975 film was an honest representation of reality and continues to be so.
“Ang Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag ay sumisimbolo sa paglalantad ng tunay na nangyayari sa ating lipunan – patuloy na paglalantad ng katotohanan at karapatang pantao sa mabuting kabuhayan at pagtatanggol ng kalayaan (Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag symbolizes the revelation of social reality – revealing truth and human rights in the pursuit of better lives and the fight for freedom),” he said in a speech before the film screening.
1975: just like yesterday
The 1975 film stars the young Hilda Koronel and Bembol Roco, credited then as Rafael Roco Jr., as the young lovers Julio Madiago and Ligaya Paraiso.
After losing communication when Ligaya left to work in the city, Julio decided to follow her. The Manila that used to be an image of hope slowly becomes a place of cruelty and hopelessness for him.
Seeing the film in its restored state engulfs you into an illusion it was made just yesterday. The richness of the color made it seem as if the whole film was shot using today’s state-of-the-art technology.
But the restoration did not only improve the film’s aesthetics. Clarity of the scenes also heightened the emotional impact felt throughout the screening, compared to the old hazy copy.
Joint project to restore truth
The restoration of the film is a joint project of the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) and award-winning director Martin Scorcese’s World Cinema Foundation (WCF).
In a pre-recorded message shown during the event, Scorcese pointed out the difficulty in obtaining good prints of Brocka’s works, which lead to his decision to participate in the restoration.
According to him, the WCF was excited to be part of saving a classic Filipino film made by a great Filipino filmmaker who used the medium to serve the Filipino people.
“It is one of Brocka’s greatest films. A brave and truly extraordinary picture… Shot in the worst and harshest conditions right on the streets of Manila at the height of the Martial Law during the Marcos regime,” Scorcese said.
Thirty-five years after its first run in the country, FDCP chair Briccio Santos said that the restoration of this classic film gives today’s generation a glimpse of the truth of the past.
“Not only did we bring a film back to life, more importantly, we restored a part of the truth for all of us to witness and remember,” he said.
With the film’s theatrical run on August in selected cinemas, a lot more people will be able to understand the importance of films that honestly depict harsh realities in a period of censorship and restrictions.
Future for cinema’s past
Manuel Conde’s Genghis Khan, the restored version of which by L’Immagine Ritrovata was premiered during the Venice Film Festival last year, was also screened in Cine Adarna earlier that day.
The current move to restore several classic Filipino films is an indication of hope not only in the study of film. The country’s history is also relived through it scenes, aiming to paint a picture of society in times forgotten, similar to how De Leon did it with Batch ‘81 and Ishmael Bernal with Himala.
By reliving the past, Filipinos can realize the glory that is Philippine Cinema.