Hilda Koronel, Lino Brocka take Cannes by storm once again
CANNES—If Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” had Kim Novak, Lino Brocka’s “Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag” had Hilda Koronel.
Both vintage films are featured in the world’s biggest festival, specifically in the Cannes Classics section, currently going on in this coastal city in the south of France.
The fest website reported that Novak would be the guest of honor in the premiere of “Vertigo” on May 25.
Not to be outdone, the Philippine contingent made sure that it also had a classic beauty at its own red-carpet event—the grand debut of the digitally restored version of Brocka’s 1975 film held last Friday night at the Salle Buñuel of the Palais.
As the end credits rolled, “Maynila” was cheered and heavily applauded.
Koronel told the Inquirer: “I am elated and a bit sad at the same time. I got sentimental upon seeing onscreen the old friends who are no longer with us, like (the late actor-director) Mario O’Hara. How I wish they could have been here as well.”
It was not Koronel’s first time at Cannes.
Over three decades ago, she made a splash at the Croisette, where her mentor Brocka’s “Insiang” was screened in the Section Parallèlle/Directors’ Fortnight.
Koronel has vivid recollections of that 1978 event. “I stayed only for a few days, but Lino and I were kept busy with pictorials and interviews with French, German and other European journalists.”
She told the Inquirer this latest Cannes visit “brought back a lot of wonderful memories.”
The highlight of her 1978 trip was Koronel landing on the front page of the daily, France-Soir, upstaging then Hollywood “It” girl Farrah Fawcett. The photo of Koronel, in her Christian Espiritu gown, was considerably larger, compared to Fawcett’s more modest picture.
In her grand comeback at Cannes, Koronel, who is now based in Los Angeles, chose an off-the-rack gown from a US store. “Filipino designer friends wanted to make a new dress for me, but we didn’t have time.”
She was escorted by her Filipino-American husband, lawyer Ralph Moore, at the premiere.
Koronel was flown to France by the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), which spearheaded the “Maynila” restoration with help from Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation (WCF) and the movie’s cinematographer and producer Mike de Leon.
Koronel said she was honored to represent Brocka, a National Artist for Film who died in a car crash in 1991. “It was a momentous occasion … inspiring.”
Sadly, De Leon and the film’s lead star Bembol Roco were unable to attend the premiere.
Scorsese sent a pretaped video message specially for the “Maynila” screening. In his message, Scorsese hailed Brocka as “a giant, a towering filmmaker whose films were “brave, extraordinary, powerful experiences.”
Scorsese said the WCF was “excited” at getting a chance to save a Brocka film. “It’s now very difficult to watch a good print of Brocka’s movies. It was urgent … to participate in this restoration.”
The dignitaries present at the “Maynila” premiere were led by FDCP chair Briccio Santos, FDCP executive director Ted Granados, consul to Monaco Patricia Zobel de Ayala, Brocka’s Cannes “discoverer” Pierre Rissient, Doug Laible and Kent Jones of WCF, Davide Pozzi of L’Immagine Ritrovata, programmers Roger Garcia, Jeremy Segay, Benjamin Illos and Paolo Bertolin, among others.
Also present were the Filipino filmmakers featured in this year’s Cannes: Erik Matti (whose “On the Job” is included in the Directors’ Fortnight) and Lav Diaz and Adolfo Alix Jr. (whose films, “Norte Hangganan ng Kasaysayan” and “Death March,” respectively, are competing in the Un Certain Regard section).
More restoration projects
Also present at the “Maynila” screening were actors Archie Alemania, Evelyn Vargas and Bianca Zialcita, cinematographer Albert Banzon, filmmakers Tikoy Aguiluz, Sheron Dayoc and Derick Cabrido, producers Dondon Monteverde, Raymond Lee, Arleen Cuevas, Vanessa Ulgado, and others.
The hall resounded with applause at the end of the two-hour film. The most ardent of film buffs lingered in the theater lobby, hesitant to leave.
Rissient told the Inquirer: “I hope this would be the beginning of more restoration projects. I know of at least four Brocka films—‘Insiang,’ ‘Bona,’ ‘Jaguar’ and ‘Bayan Ko’—that need to be saved.”
Festival programmer Salvatore Leocata of Brussels called “Maynila” a “masterpiece.”
Diaz said it had remained “powerful” after all these years.
“I first saw it at Coronet Theater in Cubao in 1975,” Diaz recalled. “I was in college then and our Literature teacher at the Ateneo assigned us to do a paper on it. My classmates and I kept debating about it afterward. It changed my perspective on cinema. It led me to filmmaking. It made me realize that film is not merely entertainment. Cinema could also be a potent tool for discourse.”
For Alix, “I was looking forward to seeing the film’s climax again. It is one of the most powerful endings I have ever seen in a movie.” He said he first saw the film on VHS when he was a high school student.
The restoration project, said Santos, aims to introduce Brocka to a wider and younger audience.
“Maynila” will premiere at the Cine Adarna of UP Diliman in June. A commercial release will follow in July or August, said Santos.
Brave choice of themes
FDCP also plans to release a twin-bill DVD of “Maynila” with Manuel Conde’s “Genghis Khan” (which was debuted in Venice), its first two restoration projects.
“Brocka has always been known for being brave in his choice of themes for his films,” said Santos. “He has the discipline and determination to imbue his films with social purpose.”
Santos met Brocka in Baguio in the 1970s. “He struck me as humble and unassuming, very respectful and serious about his craft. It was quite obvious that he was gifted.”
Santos praised Brocka for using his talent “to serve the Filipino people.”
Brocka said that the director’s role was to present the truth, Santos related. “Brocka said he had to make use of reality to confront the people so they wouldn’t become apathetic.”
A perfect example of Brocka’s commitment to the cause, Santos said, was “Maynila,” which was produced in the middle of martial law.
Santos praised “Maynila” for “shedding light on the plight of the exploited masses, at a time characterized by much danger and repression.”
In his speech, Santos said: “It was Brocka’s intention to make a document of this period … But through this restoration, not only did we bring a film back to life; more importantly, we restored a part of the truth for all of us to witness and remember.”
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