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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Saturday, June 20, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 56

[56th of 100]. The conceit of this sprawling 1980 masterpiece from Ishmael Bernal is that the whole film completely takes place under the shadow of night, hence the title, save for the punctuating sunrise at the end that provides a metaphor of relief and reprieve for its beleaguered characters. In the darkness and bright artificial lights of early 1980s Manila, they constitute the teeming multitudes of the metropolis, the buzzy amorality of their lives foregrounded by the jazzy music of Vanishing Tribe, which overlays the opening titles. We encounter the assorted comings and goings of these denizens: an uptight housewife and mother obsessed with cleaning and who has a secret past [Charito Solis]; her carefree lounge singer of a son who hustles on the side [William Martinez]; his demanding and high-living classmate and girlfriend [Gina Alajar]; a gay fashion designer whose mothering nature allows others to take advantage of him [Bernardo Bernardo]; a tomboy pickpocket and drug dealer constantly on the run from the police [Cherie Gil]; the blind but sassy masseuse she is in love with who dreams of being saved by her Saudi-based beau [Rio Locsin]; a hapless waitress in a restaurant [Lorna Tolentino] too naive to question the amorous attentions of a taxi driver [Orestes Ojeda] who actually keeps another woman [Alma Moreno] at home, a prostitute he thinks works as a nurse. [Mitch Valdez provides a fantastic and comic cameo as a social climbing customer of the fashion designer, commanding her scenes with her potty mouth, and pottier stories. Her scenes are to die for, but all too brief.] What links them are their desperations and deep wells of dishonesty, carefully laying out their individual formula for survival in an uncaring city. Their small but momentous lives intersect in one way or another, giving us a symphony of Manila lives brutalized in small and big ways by the corruption of a Philippines under Marcos. It scandalised Imelda Marcos so much -- at the time she was making a sweeping rebranding of Manila as The City of Man, a place that's boisterous but still beautiful -- that she insisted to the producers they take away the "Manila" in the title, hence the film's retitling in its first run as City After Dark. Bernal works from his usual perch of witty raconteur, observant of the foibles of Filipinos, and depicting them on screen as sharp social commentaries, delving into the dirt without sacrificing his characters' humanity. But not without some of them collapsing into the hopelessness of it all, as exemplified by Bernardo Bernardo's Manay Sharon breaking down near the end and shouting, "Ayoko na! Ayoko na!" Bernal  works his huge cast like how Robert Altman fiddles with his in Nashville and other films, minus the overlapping dialogues, and allowing their interactions to provide a cumulative portrait of the place. It's not a glamorous Manila we see -- and for the longest time, for a non-ManileƱo like me, the film provided the template with which to imagine my country's capital city as a place filled with curiosity and terror -- but watching it again, I can also see this as Bernal's unlikely love letter to his city. We understand that from the very start when Cherie Gil's Kano, upon beholding the nighttime skyline of Manila from a perch off the bay, is moved to shout: "I love you Manila, kahit ako ka pa man! Bata, matanda, mabaho, pangit, babae, lalaki, bakla, o tomboy! Halika, blow tayo." By the film's midpoint, we are in Luneta where a drunk man [played by Krip Yuson!] unexpectedly but poetically slurs: "There is no city but this city / This is the landscape of your life / Whenever you turn, black / Ruins of your loves come into view / You wish for other harbors and other places / But only an echo of this city / The self-same city / Shimmers in the hearing glass / There is no city but this city..."  Truth to tell, I have never seen this film in pristine print, but I could still behold Bernal's genius in the blotchy, overly dark versions I've seen it in. When will this get a restoration? It deserves to be seen in its intended gritty glory. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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