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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Sep 12, 2015

Heneral Luna Review: One Of The Best Local Films On A Real Life Historical Figure

TO SOME young people today, General Luna is just the name of an all girl rock band. Remote towns in Quezon and Surigao were also named after him, but his contributions have largely been forgotten in local history. Director Jerrold Tarog now comes up with an engrossing movie on him. This is his biggest and most ambitious work so far, after doing small indie films like “Senior Year” and “Sana Dati”, and acclaimed episodes in the “Shake Rattle & Roll” trilogies.

He confesses taking a lot of liberties in his treatment of the story of Luna, which he says is fiction based on facts. Luna is haailed as the greatest Filipino general during the war against American colonialism. Tarrog comes up not just with a well conceived historical movie but also with an intriguing tale of political intrigue and assassination conspiracy which aptly demonstrates that our worst enemies are not the colonizers but our selfish politicians who do not really have the interest of their countrymen at heart. This is something very true up to now that you may also ask yourself: “Bayan o sarili?”

The movie is told with the now familiar device of a young writer named Joven (Arron Villaflor) interviewing Luna (John Arcilla) then the story is told in flashbacks. Early on, Luna has perceived clearly that the Americans didn’t come here just to be friends but to conquer us, but the president of the new republic, Aguinaldo (Mon Confiado), and other members of his cabinets do not believe him, especially those who are opportunistic and ready to collaborate with the Americans for their own selfish interests, like Pedro Paterno (Leo Martinez) and Felipe Buencamino (Nonie Buencamino.) Soon, as Luna correctly predicted, the new invaders who bought us from Spain are committing atrocities and he fights them earnestly while facing resistance from his own ranks.

The movie does not aim to glorify Luna. He may be a true patriot but his infamous fiery temper is clearly shown in several scenes, especially when he is trying to discipline his men. He is also seen having an affair with a woman named Isabel (Mylene Dizon), but history says his real inamorata is a Cojuangco woman named Isidra, a great grandaunt of the late Cory Aquino, to whom he allegedly gave much of the money he got from the Republic’s treasury, something not historically verified.

The film’s climactic scene of Luna’s murder in Cabanatuan is powerfully executed. It’s overextended in its brutal depiction showing Luna repeatedly shot, hacked and stabbed even when he was already down on the ground. It is both compelling and repulsive in its gruesomeness. But even more infuriating is the way Filipino officials later washed their hands about it, especially Aguinaldo who says he had nothing to do with Luna’s death. But Tarrog clearly implicates him with the presence of Aguinaldo’s own mother, played by Perla Bautista, who is shown in one brief scene after Luna has been butchered asking: “Nagalaw pa ba iyan?”

Tarrog succeeds in coming up with a film that is not just a lesson in our country’s history but also a social commentary about our damaged national identity severely traumatized by leaders who come from rich, elitist families with feudal orientations. This is no doubt the existing situation up to now and we hope this won’t be lost to the viewers of this film and give them a better understanding of our persistent problems as a people.
Tarrog’s take on Luna is one of the best local films on a historical figure that we’ve seen. It tops our previous favorite, Richard Somes’ “Supremo” with Alfred Vargas giving a great portrayal of Bonifacio, which was made with a much lesser budget. Tarrog is lucky that his producers are very generous, even if they just lost much money in the last film they bankrolled, “Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo” starring Robin Padilla. Beautifully photographed, quite absorbingly written with touches of humor and made with believable production design, the movie surely has first rate technical credits, including the crisp editing and the engaging musical score superbly done by Tarrog himself.

His economy as a storyteller, who sometimes does it tongue in cheek, is very much evidence in that beautifully stylized flashback montage where he seamlessly shows Luna’s childhood spending Christmas with his family and his stint in Europe where he rubs elbows with other Filipinos, including his older brother Juan (Allan Paule) and Jose Rizal (played by Junjun Quintana) whose assassination was also shown briefly. His subtle tribute to Juan is also apparent in that Spoliarium-like pose at the courtyard after the murder of Luna and one of his most trusted aides played by Joem Bascon. It’s a truly competent filmmaker like him who ER Ejercito should have met when he still had the means as Laguna governor to finance those big budgeted period films he did like “Asiong Salonga” and “El Presidente”.

Luna was only 33 years old when he was ruthlessly killed and one misgiving we had about the movie is that John Arcilla, at 49, is quite old for the role. But in all fairness to Arcilla, he might look a bit too mature but he imbues the role with so much verve, chutzpah and a larger than life performance that is totally necessary to paint a powerful portrait of an enigmatic historical figure. The movie has a very big cast but no one excelled in his role the way Arcilla did, which is rightfully so since he is the only one playing the tragic hero in the title role whose volatile spirit he perfectly captures.