Amigo. Soy muy amigo, replies Rafael Dacanay (Joel Torre), as the American general’s interpreter asks for his name in Spanish. He is the cabeza de baranggay of a small town in Luzon (probably in Quezon, given the town’s reverence for San Isidro Labrador) during the time of the Philippine-American War. His son escapes and joins his brother’s army of insurgents just in time as a troop of Americans barges into town, causing a rather chaotic day for the townsfolk. The whole movie revolves around the dynamics among the locals, the insurgents, and the townspeople, with Dacanay mostly getting the brunt of the blame from all sides for almost anything he does; all this, because he is the head of the town, just like his father and grandfather before him.
I honestly thought that this was a Filipino production because of the many Filipino actors involved. I was quite surprised that it is actually an American film. I think the actors, both foreign and local, did their jobs perfectly. As for the main story, the Philippine-American War is probably one of the least discussed events in Philippine History and this movie provides a good glimpse of how it was, albeit with some biases in terms of point of view. The movie is rich with languages, with the dialogue mostly in Tagalog and English with a spattering of Cantonese and Spanish, courtesy of the friar.
What I like about this movie is the various representations of the typical Filipino as portrayed by some of the country’s brilliant actors. Corazon (Rio Locsin) is the pious wife always supportive of her husband. Locsin effectively breathes life into one of the most common Filipina stereotypes of the colonial period: the religious Maria Clara. Her sister Josefa (Irma Adlawan) symbolizes the two-faced gossip-monger, who, together with her jealous husband Saturnino (John Arcilla), proves that crab mentality could be traced all the way back to Colonial Philippines. Padre Hidalgo (Yul Vazquez) is the perfect representation of the manipulative friar who uses religion for his very own hidden agenda. He serves as interpreter in the movie thanks to his trilingual tongue.
I am glad to have not experienced living in a war-torn environment in my lifetime. Most people just live each day trying to get by, subsisting in their own way, and this movie demonstrates how they are the real losers by getting caught in between the invading force and the liberation front, both of which promise nothing aside from death if you sympathize with the other. Where do you position yourself? In the end, you are doomed, just like Dacanay who serves as the symbol of his suffering populace in this movie. With a twinge of irony, the movie ends on a tragic note, effectively casting a gloomy forecast of the country's future.