Thursday, September 17, 2015

Heneral Luna

1898. Spain concedes defeat to the United States in exchange for $20 million, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. As the Americans prepare to claim their new territory, they are met with resistance by an infant republic under the presidency of Emilio Aguinaldo (Mon Confiado). Feisty general Antonio Luna (John Arcilla) serves as commander of the revolutionary army and makes it difficult for the new colonizers to get what they want. But he is playing a losing game, as he participates in heated verbal arguments at the Cabinet which are just as adrenaline-inducing as the skirmishes they have in the field. Rife with conflicts stemming from opposing factions, the Filipinos themselves are at war with one another, unable to reach an agreement whether to continue waging war or just accept peaceful annexation by an emerging superpower. Can one brash general really swim against the tide and emerge victorious despite such unfavorable circumstances?

Luna spouts profanity both in Spanish and Tagalog, and would engage in funny dialogues with his subordinates worthy of a spot in a comedy bar. He is human. He is one of us, as opposed to the general notion we have of him, which is that of a black and white character on the yellowish page of a textbook. Arcilla should win an award for this as he obviously does a great job in humanizing one of the greatest generals in Philippine history.

Tarog has made himself a name in film thanks to his brilliant use of special effects and skills in editing, mainly in horror and fantasy movies. Seeing how this project turned out despite the difference in genre proves how good a director he is, which makes us want him to direct more historical fiction if that would help revive the quality lost in the film industry of today. Not only has he been able to humanize his characters, he has also developed a product that is palatable to the taste of the modern moviegoer, all without sacrificing either aesthetic value or plot development.

Talking about aesthetics, the aerial shots are stunning, particularly that one where Luna reflects on top of a ravine and the camera pans around to give a bird’s-eye view of the gorgeous landscape. Imagery and symbolism are also taken quite seriously. The epilogue where the Philippine flag is seen being slowly consumed in flames is just as epic as that pivotal scene serving as a throwback to Juan Luna’s Spoliarium. And then you just realize how relevant and ironic such reference is to that particular moment. It's just so perfect that it makes you want to cry.

The film takes a lot of liberties for the sake of artistic value alright, as far as the veracity of facts is concerned. To reiterate a point, though, this is not a history refresher if that is what you want. Instead, you are presented with a version of history, albeit a less popular one which turns the table around on our general notion of the past as we know it, creating antagonists out of the supposed heroes we thought we already knew quite well. After all, isn’t Aguinaldo the one whose face we used to see all the time engraved on the five-peso coin? Where is Antonio Luna?

This film’s greatest achievement would not be its version of the Filipino-American War, but rather that of sparking interest in Philippine history once more. Whoever sees this movie would probably rush home and Google Antonio Luna. We are not saying that Wikipedia is that reliable either, but it could be the start of something good. Besides, in a world plagued with celebutards whose claim to fame is fame itself, wouldn’t it be nice to take a walk down memory lane back when people got popular for actually accomplishing something worthy of recognition?

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