It’s not hard to feel sorry for Bembol Roco as Julio Madiaga in the 1975 classic Maynila, sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag. You watch with pity as the young fisherman from Marinduque navigates the cruel streets of Manila to look for his lover Ligaya Paraiso. Lino Brocka masterfully adapts the novel In the Claws of Brightness by Edgardo M. Reyes to show the harsh realities of life in Manila, and it has been noted by critics as one of the most important films ever made.
What makes Roco sympathetic are his large doe eyes, innocent to the machinations of the capital city. Here, he experiences almost every injustice, from being robbed of his salary as a construction worker to being laid off, entering prostitution, and watching as the people around him die one by one. It’s a bleak and depressing story, and the ending doesn’t help.
It’s not hard to appreciate this kind of story regardless of your socio-economic background. Roco’s mournful eyes and Brocka’s direction make it an unsettling yet gripping watch, its message looming over you until the very end: whatever you do, you’re going to get fucked.