Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Heneral Luna: Adelante!

The student discount didn't count.
Heneral Luna, the independent film by Jerrold Tarog is the first Filipino I watched in the cinema since Eric Matti’s On The Job. Sadly, I only knew of it after reading raving reviews from Facebook and Twitter friends. Marketing budget was perhaps nil, which is unfortunate because these sorts of movies are exactly what Filipinos need, young and old. I watched a matinee showing at the Tagbilaran Island City Mall on its last day, and expected a full house. But alas, despite the 50% student discount (regular price is P120), the theater was mostly bare saved only by a string of senior Tagbilaranons enjoying their free movie passes c/o the city government. Where were the students?

Their loss. Heneral Luna is epic. It has flaws worthy of a movie sins episode but is overall a gripping cinematic fare worthy of a pert Heneral Luna salute. Adelante!

But even so, I am itching to discuss some of its hits and more so its misses.

HIT. John Arcilla, no doubt, gave justice to the Tarog’s Luna, the lunatic only slight charismatic but well-respected leader of the post-Bonifacio revolutionary army.

MISS. Way older Luna. General Antonio Luna was 32 when he was assassinated (June 5, 1899), and has been involved in the reform movement for perhaps roughly 10 years. (This is the same old guy for a young role formula, which to me was especially off-putting in El Presidente with ER Ejercito – Aguinaldo was younger than Antonio Luna by 3 years, Ejercito is older than Arcilla by 2-3 years.) The problem is, I’m not sure if there are actually age-appropriate Filipino actors today fit for this role. (Or perhaps, there are in the stage scene.) I might just let this slide, though a younger actor could have pulled the younger audiences in, and (the actual youthful character imagery) could also perhaps reinforce the role of youth in social change.

HIT. Cinematography, production design and the creative scenes were on point: whip-wielding Luna, the Spoliarium, and the burning flag.

MISS. Disclaimer. I don’t think a disclaimer at the beginning of the film was necessary, all history is partly fiction, anyway. It is given, this is historical fiction as all biopic films are. This creative license should have led to a more meaningful portrayal of:

Luna, the General. It’s a story that started in media res with creative flashbacks. However, I think Luna’s character beyond his absurdities was not well developed, I didn’t feel that I’d want to root for him.

The military tactics he pioneered, the Luna sharpshooters, the guerilla unit Black Guard, the Luna defense line, etc. were tackled but not enough. The Luna defense line was perhaps the most discussed (with the scale model thingie and the 3-day recruitment and all), but its cleverness was not really highlighted. He could summon thousands, impressive, but it was dampened down by the fact that he supposedly threatened to kill them all if they didn’t follow him. Who would care for such a protagonist? And that scene of whipping out the civilians from the “military” train? Precious. And obviously recalls Jesus’ driving out heathens from the temple.

The scene with his mother and the surrealistic flashback during their days in Spain was kinda confusing because another actor was used to depict a younger Antonio Luna. In my mind, I was like, just go along with it, go along with it.

I only started to care for him when he was brutally murdered. Because, what with the whole Spoliarium tableau, who wouldn’t? (I cried buckets, as in, buckets, deep inside, from there until the burning flag was no more.)

The “apostasy” and the brutality of the Americans. Provided that a whole other film could and should be made on how the Americans hijacked our independence from Spain, but I think every film set during this period, should tell the story of the American atrocities in the Philippine-American War where about 250,000 to a million Filipino civilians died. There was a montage of village raids and killings of civilians but not impactful enough.

Provided, the film is really about the assassination of General Luna by his own President, no less, highlighting the puerile silliness of the Philippine revolutionary government and the people running it. Plagued by infighting, regionalism/ clanism, elitism, chuvanism – it is good to know that we are still at it. Punyeta!
Philippine Government of Elitism, Regionalism and Absurdism since 1896.

Heneral Luna (2015)
Directed by: Jerrold Tarog
Written by: E.A. Rocha, Henry Hunt Francia, Jerrold Tarog
Cinematography by: Pong Ignacio
Starring John Arcilla, Mon Confiado, Arron Villaflor, Joem Bascon, Archie Alemania, Epi Quizon, Nonie Buencamino, Mylene Dizon

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