Hope for the Future: A Review of “Heneral Luna”

Although Philippine cinema is still  littered  with its share of questionable films (“Etiquette for Mistresses”????, “Ex with Benefits”????), Jerrold Tayog proves that there’s much hope for the future of Philippine film.

Enter Heneral Luna.

This film is no atypical biopic– one at begins at one’s early years, or opts for a less conventional flashback ending, as most do. Instead, it begins somewhere in the middle, right in the heat of the action. The plot mixes historical reality with tinges of fictionalized events, and thus proves to be a challenge to recount without unintentional ‘spoilage’.

One thing I do advise is a quick look through of the events that follow the intrusion of the Americans into the Filipino-Spanish brouhaha (sometime around 1899, to be exact), in order to get a feel of where the story is at.

John Arcilla is impeccable in the titular role–breathing dynamic personality into the character of Antonio Luna. He plays brusque to an almost brilliant degree. Yet he comes off a little one dimensional in some scenes that require Luna’s signature ‘temper’ to shine through.

Comedians Leo Martinez and Archie Alemania unintentionally inject humor into the film (perhaps because of their prominence as comedians), but do so in such a way that they prove not to overwhelm the film’s more serious bits. They also prove themselves capable actors that are able to transcend their comedic roots without much difficulty.

Mon Confiado plays Luna’s stoic polar opposite Emilio Aguinaldo, brought to brilliant life with both hair and understated flair. The film paints Aguinaldo in an odd light, one that makes him seem like the real pushover in his own government (could anyone offer me insight with regard to how this was a stark contrast to his portrayal in El Presidente?) . At the end of the day (hair jokes aside), Aguinaldo is the puppet master of the revolution, and he, in turn, is played around with by the Americans.

Epi Quizon may seem underutilized in his role as the sublime paralytic Apolinario Mabini, but shows us in his acting that he may know more than he’s letting on.

The film lacks a strong female presence, but does the Filipina woman true justice in its portrayals. Mylene Dizon’s Isabel is no obedient lover, but a woman brave enough to face her ‘lover’ Luna in negotiations. Luna’s mother is a warm presence in his life, proving to be one of the few people who can calm him down.

Needless to say, the production value of the film is impressive. From picturesque shots of soldiers walking the fields to the incredible aerial shot of Luna in contemplation, the movie was clearly made with a meticulous eye. The dialogue is in conversational Filipino (or perhaps, Tagalog to be politically correct?) and is sprinkled with tinges of Spanish and even French. The best parts of the film are Luna’s moments of unbridled brashness– most of which are probably understood (and appreciated) only by Pinoys.

[I’m reserving a separate post in order to jot down my interpretations of scenes in the film that very much parallel our current political situation.]

Heneral Luna brings to impressive life characters that only used to live in our textbooks– imbuing them with a certain level of humanity that makes them reachable to the modern day Filipino. This is not a film that’s here simply to make you brush up on your Hekasi– it’s here to teach a lesson, one that seems extremely timely in our contemporary age.

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