Sunday, May 24, 2009

Maynila sa mga Pangil ng Dilim (2008)

Maynila sa mga Pangil ng Dilim (Khavn dela Cruz, 2008)
English Title: Manila in the Fangs of Darkness

Bembol Roco, from his first starring role as an innocent provincial in a quest to rescue his sweetheart from an abusive Chinese man in Maynila: sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (Manila in the Claws of Neon, Lino Brocka, 1975), has evolved as an actor. Physically, apart from his completely shaven head, age has hardened his once-immaculate mug and covered it with lines and curves that dispel any trace of his former youth and innocence. Professionally, Roco adapted to suit his evolving physical features and ventured into playing thugs and villains, a far cry from his portrayal of naive Julio Madiaga, which catapulted him to public consciousness. Despite the vast moral and emotional distance between the roles he plays, he still succeeds, granting the villains he portrays with an ominousness that feels natural, and with a mere flicker of his hard-edged eyes, he momentously evokes either a vengeful depth or a wanton-hungry craze, something that is usually missing from the underwritten foes that Filipino cinema can normally afford.

In Khavn dela Cruz's Maynila sa mga Pangil ng Dilim (Manila in the Fangs of Darkness), Roco plays Kontra Madiaga, a character whose name is derived from two characters from Roco's vast filmography: Julio Madiaga, the wide-eyed protagonist of Maynila: sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag and Commander Kontra, the ruthless fundamentalist paramilitary commander from Orapronobis (Fight For Us, Lino Brocka, 1989). Much more than the name, Kontra Madiaga is a character borne out of the marriage of Julio Madiaga's stubborn messianic trait and Commander Kontra's intrinsic disregard for humanity in favor of a perceived good. Trapped in a twilight zone-like scenario where he aimlessly follows Ligaya (Ella Cortez), draped in an immaculate white dress, in the dirty streets of Manila, Kontra Madiaga is more of a conceptual creation rather than a character meant to live and breath in a traditional narrative. Speaking through voice-overs, he alludes to the past, depicted through snippets from Maynila, Orapronobis, and other Brocka films like Kislap sa Dilim (Sparkle in the Dark, 1991) and Hayop sa Hayop (Beast to Beast, 1978), and forces the audience to weave these Brocka characters into the confused yet powerful force that is Kontra Madiaga.

Maynila sa mga Pangil ng Dilim is presumably dela Cruz's ode to Brocka's filmmaking. It is an interesting, if not totally surprising, concept, considering that dela Cruz, despite his obvious reverence to Brocka, is a filmmaker who consciously shies from working under the influence of Brocka's school of social realism. The closest dela Cruz has entered into Brocka territory is with Squatterpunk (2006)
, a silent documentary, usually accompanied by a musical live act, that exposes the paradox that exists within Manila's slums, where humanity survives despite severe poverty, and even there, dela Cruz inflicts the concept with authorial integrity, pushing the boundaries of the medium to evoke the youthful and experimental verve that his cinema possesses. Maynila sa mga Pangil ng Dilim exposes the vast differences between dela Cruz and Brocka's styles.

Dela Cruz filters convenience from Brocka's filmmaking. Maynila sa mga Pangil ng Dilim is a difficult film not because of the palpable violence and apathy, but because its concept is designed to alienate. Rather than being constricted by the requirements of melodrama and social realism, dela Cruz widens his canvass. He utilizes Roco as an actor who has evolved from stubborn innocence to nihilistic assuredness to create a phantom of a character that represents the deteriorating morality of the embattled metropolis. Roco's interpretation of dela Cruz's wild creation is pitch-perfect. He is confused, angry, lonely, and damned; much like the city that has become the subject of dela Cruz's explorations.

With chosen scenes from Brocka's films screening in sequence with those directed by dela Cruz, one can only appreciate Brocka's visual, narrative and emotional succinctness: the way he packs fear, insanity, and other emotions within a few minutes of studio-manufactured dialogue and
directorial deftness. In comparison, dela Cruz's scenes seem cerebral and impenetrable. The strange combination of Brocka's populist filmmaking and dela Cruz's experimantations only heightens the nightmarish tone of the picture. The crisp digital footage of dela Cruz juxtaposed with the aging footage of Brocka's films evoke a twisted sense of reminiscence. The stylized voice-overs reinforces the existence of Kontra Madiaga as a creature of the imagination rather than a traditional cinematic figure. The purposely incohering soundbits and subtitles forwards dela Cruz's concept of recreating or refashioning Brocka's cinematic figures into a singular character that is the anointed spokesperson of Manila's intrinsic darkness.


Anonymous said...


i've been a long time lurker. i added you to my blog roll if you don't mind.


Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks! link away!

enuhski said...

you know what? i haven't seen this pa. (i helped out in the production and had a bit role rin hehe)

Oggs Cruz said...

Hi Enuh,

I didn't see you here... That gives me another reason to watch the film, hehe.