By Harmony Valdoz, Literary Editor |
Fast-moving and professional during the day, liberated and wild at night; this is Manila as depicted in Ishmael Bernal’s film, “Manila by Night”. But beyond the sex scenes and illicit love affairs are the underlying messages about the capital of the Philippines.
Colorful characters can be seen in Manila by Night. The film defied the usual protagonist-antagonist-supporting characters formula of most movies. It also didn’t have a specific conflict that must be solved in the ending. Manila by Night simply reflected the society in the 80’s through the lives of different people.
Virgie is a former prostitute who still struggles to keep a clean image as a mother of four. Her son Alex is a drug-addicted college student who has a girlfriend named Vanessa. Manay Sharon is the gay couturier who takes Alex and Pebrero, among others, as his lovers. Pebrero is a womanizing taxi driver who has a child with his estranged wife while keeping Adelina as his paramour and Baby as his girlfriend. Adelina disguises as a nurse but is actually a prostitute. Baby is a probinsyana waitress who fell for Pebrero thinking he would marry her. Kano is a lesbian drug pusher whose love interest is the blind sauna prostitute named Bea. Bea has two kids and she hopes to have a better life with Greg Williams, if he takes her to live with him in Saudi Arabia.
The web of lies and worldly desires somehow bring together these characters as the story progresses.
Redefining Love and Relationships
Even in the ‘80s, when the movie came out, it is clear that some Filipinos were already stepping out of the dogma of a conservative society when it comes to relationships. Fidelity is disregarded as the need for survival and want of acceptance surfaces. Heterosexual and homosexual relationships meet.
The film embodies the true nature of man. Manila is an ecosystem where competition is fierce. The characters resort to parasitism – Adelina’s abusive husband clings on to her and exhausts her capacity to provide; commensalism – Bea depends on Greg Williams to provide for and take care of her children when in fact Greg wouldn’t benefit from this arrangement; and of course, mutualism – Manay Sharon gives Pebrero and his other lovers money in exchange for love and companionship, Pebrero takes Adelina as his paramour for her to take care of his child. In exchange, Pebrero gives Adelina a sense of security.
What does “night” mean, really? Aside from that point in time when the sun has dipped below the horizon, “night” in this film means a certain state of mind and being. It is the condition wherein people bare what they normally hide from others to keep a certain image. “Night” is when only a few people are watching, so they put their guards down and let loose. Hypocrisy falls away and true identity surfaces.
“Day”, on the other hand, is the sugar-coated personality. It’s when humans try to be socially-acceptable because it is in their nature to want to belong.
A young couple who engages in premarital sex makes it a point to hear the Sunday Mass. A blind prostitute prays to the Virgin Mary. The irony of these scenes in the film reflects the customized religions of Filipinos and humans in general.
People choose what to believe in; they choose what is easily applicable or agreeable with their existing lifestyles.
It is rare for someone to follow every word from the Bible, unless he or she is a saint. Most Filipino Catholics seem to take comfort in the fact the God is ever-forgiving. The mindset then becomes: Live in sin now, ask for forgiveness later. God will understand.
Good triumphs over evil
If there’s anything cliché about the film, it’s the ending. The good are rewarded and the evil, punished. The deceptive Adelina dies at the hands of an unknown man. The outlaw drug-pusher Kano rots in jail.
It is also noticeable that the definition of “good” in the movie follows the conservative ideals, despite the liberal lifestyle of the film’s characters. The belief in marriage and purity is evident. Baby married a doctor who is supportive of her child with Pebrero. Manay Sharon and Bea turned away from the desires of the flesh. The prostitute-turned-good-housewife Virgie and college student Vanessa became agents of change in the society.
The breaking dawn, the people exercising, and Alex lying on the grass sends a subliminal message: a new year, a healthier life and renewed hopes. That even after a chaotic night of death and shattered dreams, life goes on in the bustling city of Manila.