First off, from what I gathered from reading a couple reviews, the original Filipino title for this film has a very poetic quality about it that is lost somewhat in the translation (and the translation itself is quite vague, resulting in many different English titles for this film). A more appropriate English translation would be Manila on the Verge of Dawn, so couple that with the literal translation used by the Book and you can get a pretty good idea what the filmmakers were going for with the title. That said, this is another ‘lone country’ entry, in that it is the only film from the Philippines to make it into the list, and it is widely regarded as one of the (if not the) greatest Filipino films of all time. Now, after seeing it, I’m not so sure I’d go so far as to make such a dubious and bold claim, but I still liked what this had to offer, even if I wasn’t really a fan of how it went about offering it.
The film follows Julio, an emigrant to the city of Manila from a farming town some ways away. Julio has traveled to Manila to track down his old girlfriend, Ligaya, who was whisked away to Manila on the promises of a better future by a woman named Mrs. Cruz. The film starts out with a bit of trickery; the opening credits play out over black-and-white footage of Manila, but then the picture shifts into color when we come to focus on our protagonist. It’s a nice transition, though for practicality reasons (or in the context of the film) I wasn’t sure why it was done. I couldn’t help but get the feeling that I would have enjoyed the cinematography much more had the print of the film that I saw not been of such low quality; I could tell it would have been nice to look at, even though the print made it not all that nice to look at. I’ve heard there is a restored print to be found courtesy of Martin Scorsese (who else), so that may be something to look into if you decide to see this one. Just be aware of the overdubbing, which was occasionally an issue; there were a few times where I caught the actors’ lips moving after the dialogue had ended, for instance. It was okay most of the time, but I couldn’t completely ignore it.
I had a lot of conflicting feelings about this one. It seemed to want to tell a good story about a young man trying to reclaim his lost love, but it got too bogged down in the details and ended up being something completely different. I don’t want to invite spoilers by discussing it further, but the film turns out to not truly be about Julio and Ligaya overcoming all odds and obstacles to be together; it takes a decidedly alternate turn. But, really, I shouldn’t judge the film for not living up to what I thought it was going to be, when it had no intention of trying to conform to my standards. It was too concerned with telling its story, which while it wasn’t always focused on this goal 100% of the time, still got the job done, even if I thought it would be a different kind of film from how it opened. All told, I don’t know if I’d call this the greatest Filipino film of all time, but I might be tempted to throw words like ‘most complete’ or ‘most accessible’ at it. And again, I couldn’t help but feel that this would have been somewhat better had I seen a better quality print of it, but them’s the breaks. There were some technical faults, though, that I could tell weren’t just a result of the print, so it got a few points off for that, but I had to admire the film for what it tries to achieve, even if it ended up being not what I thought it would be.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10