CANNES—It’s a much-delayed “homecoming” for the late National Artist for Film Lino Brocka in this resort city in the French Riviera, which once embraced him as one of its most celebrated finds.
Brocka’s Cannes “discoverer,” Pierre Rissient, has been campaigning for years for the Filipino filmmaker’s return to the Croisette.
In a 2008 interview with the Inquirer, Rissient said: “I want to have Brocka’s films, like ‘Insiang’ and ‘Jaguar,’ restored and reshown in Cannes. I am aware that it can be an expensive undertaking but it’s important.”
Over three decades after the world premiere of “Insiang” in the Section Parallèlle/Directors’ Fortnight, another Brocka classic will be unveiled Friday night in this year’s edition of the Cannes International Film Festival.
Brocka was the country’s most well-known director in the international scene before his death in a car accident in 1991.
Brocka’s 1975 film, “Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag,” was chosen to be featured in the Cannes Classics section, along with other screen gems like Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s “Cleopatra,” Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Last Emperor” in 3D, Alain Resnais’ “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” Patrice Chéreau’s “La Rein Margot,” Francesco Rosi’s “Lucky Luciano” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.”
Brocka’s “Maynila” represents Philippine cinema in this esteemed lineup.
After all, “Maynila” is “an acknowledged classic not just in the Philippines but all over the world,” said Briccio Santos, chairman of the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), which undertook the restoration project along with Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation (WCF) and the film’s cinematographer and producer, Mike de Leon.
“It’s the same film that introduced Brocka to US audiences and it was shown at Lincoln Center in New York twice, in 1980 and 1999,” Santos said.
Santos described “Maynila” as the collaboration of “two big names in Philippine cinema, Brocka and De Leon,” creating a movie that would “alter the course of filmmaking in the country.”
It’s imperative to save endangered classics like “Maynila,” Santos said.
“Since we have already lost much of our cinematic heritage, we can no longer neglect these classics,” Santos said. “We owe it to the next generations to preserve all that we can.”
Last year, the FDCP premiered another “lost” Filipino classic, Manuel Conde’s “Genghis Khan” at the Venice film fest.
The same team that had worked on “Genghis Khan” was commissioned to undertake the digital restoration of “Maynila”—L’Immagine Ritrovata, based in Bologna, Italy.
The only extant master negatives of “Maynila” from the British Film Institute and the only good print from the Asian Film Archives (AFA in Singapore) were sent to Italy for the restoration project, said De Leon.
Davide Pozzi, director for film restoration of the Bologna laboratory, told the Inquirer that “18 technicians worked every day in two shifts” to restore “Maynila.”
Pozzi admitted that, in a lot of ways, it was a “labor of love” for the staff of L’Immagine Ritrovata, which works closely with Scorsese’s WCF.
Pozzi said it was not every day that they got to work on a film like “Maynila.”
“It’s a great film,” Pozzi said. “The whole team loves Brocka’s work.”
With utmost affection, the Italian experts worked on “Maynila”—“erasing the scratches, white spots, halos and dirt.”
“The main problem was the film’s physical condition. It was fortunate that we got to work on the original camera negatives, along with the good prints from AFA,” Pozzi said. “We were able to combine the best elements from the best source materials.”
Digitally cleaning the film, Pozzi clarified, is a technical process devoid of aesthetic decisions. But when it came to color grading the film, Pozzi turned to De Leon in order to achieve the filmmakers’ original intention.
Pozzi flew to Manila two months before the Cannes premiere to meet with De Leon and show snippets of the restored film.
“In film restoration, it’s advisable to consult with the artists who worked on it,” Pozzi said. “I wanted to get feedback from the film’s producer and director of photography so as not to deviate from the film’s look.”
During the Manila meeting, Pozzi asked De Leon questions about the film’s black-and-white opening credits and subtitles, among other concerns.
In a presentation, Pozzi showed that the original images were faded while the restored version looked crisper and more vivid.
Pozzi likewise referred to a documentary on the making of “Maynila,” shot by its scriptwriter, Clodualdo “Doy” del Mundo Jr., in restoring the film.
The docu, which was shot in 16mm, featured excerpts from the film, as well as priceless behind-the-scenes footage, De Leon told Pozzi during the meeting.
In an earlier interview, De Leon clarified that he looked at “Maynila,” which was based on a novel by Edgardo M. Reyes, as a chance to make technical innovations in Philippine movies.
“I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to get away from the TV-type of lighting [that was prevalent in] Filipino movies at that time. I wanted to achieve the ‘available light’ look,” De Leon said.
Just as groundbreaking as its technical achievements was the film’s scathing critique of martial law Philippine society, said Santos.
Although the film was first released in 1975, its story still resonates and remains relevant, said its lead star Hilda Koronel, who will grace the Cannes premiere.
“The cause of film preservation can be popularized by exhibiting these classics in festivals and encouraging actors and other artists to talk about its importance,” Koronel said. “Young people should be exposed to these cinematic treasures.”
After the Cannes debut, “Maynila” will be unveiled in Manila and toured all over the country, as part of the FDCP’s Sineng Pambansa (national cinema) program.
“Restoring films like ‘Maynila’ and ‘Genghis Khan’ can be an effective means to give the country’s youth access to these classics, too,” Santos said. “Young people can greatly benefit from the lessons of Brocka’s films if they are to fulfill their promise as the country’s future.”