Manila by Night, a masterpiece of Ishmael Bernal, is a film that exposes the harsh reality in the lives of the underprivileged Filipinos. Some may recognize this film as “City After Dark”, a title changed by Former first lady Imelda Marcos when she prevented the film from being exported. Mostly because the film contradicts the former president’s push for social progress and in some way, bastardizes everything the era was meant to be. This film doesn’t hold back in telling what progress looked like when it came to the life of an average Filipino living in the Marcos era. It looks at subjects and themes that are less explored by other mainstream film of that time. The film shows how prevalent unemployment, prostitution, drug addiction and the lack of decent housing, is in the city.
The main issue presented in the film is prostitution and how the average Filipino deals with the shame and desperation of being in such job. This moral dilemma can be seen in one of the characters attempt to run away from her past as a prostitute, she tries to be a better parent figure to her children. At the same time, prostitution is used to symbolize the backward progress of the city that ironically boasts providing its people with “a better life”. The characters struggle to get out of their situation because they are too comfortable living that such manner or perhaps too late at admitting the mistakes of their lifestyle choices. A few examples of this can be seen from a gay character hiding his lover in the comfort room whenever his boyfriend is around; a young, unmarried woman finds out that she is bearing a child; a man attempting to keep his drug addiction a secret.
Even though a happy ending was forced into this film, the director reminds the its audience of Manila’s sluggish and corrupt state, forever attempting to find a better tomorrow amidst its ever morally conflicting lifestyle.