Thursday, September 24, 2015


After all has been said and done, this will not be another gushing tribute to Jerrold Tarog's outstanding film HENERAL LUNA.   Whatever could be said has been talked about and written a number of times so that at this point, two weeks after the movie opened, anything else along that line would simply be repetitive and reductive.

But let it still be said that the overwhelming response to the film will never be adequate.  Its greatest feat is not because it managed to stay in cinema houses for two weeks but because it opened the eyes of the audience that films can be something more than entertainment.  Moreover, audiences also realized that you can be entertained without being numbed by more of the same or given a dosage of laughter anesthetic that somehow deadens your brain for ninety minutes after you dole out two hundred pesos.

On the contrary, HENERAL LUNA was disturbing.  No, it was very very disturbing.  I left the movie house angry and depressed. I was already forewarned by friends who caught the screening ahead of me ... as well various Facebook shoutouts ... that this one movie that will make you remember not only the quotable quotes or the superb performances ... but what it had to say about being Filipino and the betrayal of the intellegentsia in our nation's history. Yes, everything they said was true.  Tarog bitch slaps you silly --- making you confront with dismay, disgust and a lot of anger about what has become of the country because there are just too many politicians and very few idealists.  There are too many platforms but no national vision.

It makes me remember that we Filipinos keep comparing ourselves to the bamboo.  We distinguish its  resilience against the most angry storms and winds because it sways where the strong gusts of wind bring them.  Because of their flexibility, they are never torn about by the strongest of storms.

 True. The bamboo know how to dance to the tune of the heavens thus having stronger chances of surviving such cataclysmic tests.  But then again, the bamboo was never known to be the strongest wood because it is not wood but hardened grass.  And because its consistency cannot match what hard woods are made of, bamboos are prone to termites, molds and rots slowly yet somewhat easily.  

So much for comparisons.  The bamboo is easily corrupted and is not meant for the long haul.

Tarog's film had its compromises.  From the very start, he had a disclaimer stating that this was an extrapolation of fiction with historical facts.  Cinematic license was practiced with great generosity in order to underline the importance of the material's theme.  The point is to show the iconoclastic character of General Antonio Luna --- his temperament, his passion and his conviction which eventually revealed shades of betrayal and treason not from the foreigner as enemy but from his own countrymen.  Compromise, it was and still is called: the law of practicality over idealism, supposed reason over national vision --- the sila versus tayo dichotomy that has long plagued the citizenry of the archipelago.

To fully comprehend all that, Tarog took his liberties.  This was and is still a film, after all.  This is not a documentary nor a historical account boasting of up-to-the-last-detail precision.  Some names were changed to spare the story of diversionary subplots that would have been more interesting and equally relevant --- like the relationship between Heneral Luna and his Ysabel.

The real success of the film goes beyond the shake-up it gave to Filipinos in need of clarifications regarding the history they so easily have forgotten.

It was all about the fact that it took two weeks for people to go out and watch the movie.  It took an online protest not to have the movie pulled out of moviehouses by the first weekend because this was a film worth watching and people should be given the chance to see it.  They may like it or hate it --- but they have to see it.  And it takes almost a miracle for any average Filipino moviegoer (OK, let us not even call them the masa because the D and E crowds do not have the extra cash to spend two hundred pesos for a screening of a movie starring an actor and not merely a star.) to go out and watch a historical movie because audiences prefer the familiarity of romcoms, the abandonment of slapstick comedy or the joys of being a querida.

It took a noise rally from social media and non-stop discussions about the pros and cons of the movie before people finally took a second look and decided, "Sige nga. Mapanood na nga ..." just to be able to join the discussion or to say that they partook of this rare cinematic opportunity.

Movies about heroes of both celebrated and dubious reputations pop up ever so often but Tarog's ability to entertain as well as provoke thought make the work all the more relevant and worth the hard earned money spent on the ticket.  This is not a classroom history movie ... nor was it meant to deify a hero by showing his importance in the scheme of things. Rather, Luna was shown as tragic in his passion, conviction and vulnerability. He was not pushed to the level of the melodramatic or the cheesy ... but rather something comprehensible and reachable to a young audience.

Why it took so long for the movie to pick up shows another problem all together. It is not that we do not have the audience to appreciate movies like this --- rather, it is because we have been deprived of variety being fed with the same menu every week, every month --- so that even the allegedly thinking and spending middle class no longer trust Filipino movies to have anything more than the nutritional value found in junk food.  Then comes a surprise such as this --- and Filipino audiences take time to warm up and realize that, yes ... there are local movies worth your two hundred pesos outside the MetroManila Filmfest when you do not have the sequel of The Maze Runner showing against a local film.

Now at the heart of its second week, Heneral Luna has been pulled out of some movie houses but the ones that still show the film are getting full house crowds and even extra screenings.

That is a good sign. No, it is a hopeful sign.  There is nothing wrong with commercial movies --- as there is nothing wrong with tasty desserts. But it certainly helps a lot knowing that the kitchen can still cook up a delicious main course that keeps you full and at the same time filled with challenges and ideas.

That is Heneral Luna winning the battle.