I was never been a fan of General Antonio Luna. Known for his infamous temper, I ever wondered why he was enlisted in the roster of Philippine heroes. At the first week of the “Heneral Luna” screening, I dismissed it as another average period film. Until the social media buzzed with endless accolades for the film.
Although oozing with curiosity, it took me four weeks before seeing it. Notwithstanding the fact I watched it without a date (which I never ever had yet), I got more than what I’ve bargained for.
Much of the movie plot revolves on the Philippine revolution, which coincided at the close of the 19th century. Here was General Luna, pompous and ready to defend his principles — in a defensive move. Not the wimpy kind of general who would shrug his shoulders when the government was ready to deal with the American conquerors, Luna was stubborn to push the Westerners off the newly instituted Philippine Republic.
His ways in disciplining his soldiers, mostly the cowardly ones, and his laid back fellow generals was offensively harsh to many of them. Those who resisted his orders were immediately slapped with Artikulo Uno: those disobedient to the general’s orders can be subject to punishment and death without undergoing military court.
His defense on his stance offended many of President Emilio Aguinaldo’s cabinet members. This had triggered a conspiracy to eliminate the headstrong general. But one thing made Luna’s name forever etched in the pages of history was his love for his Motherland. Never mind the women that he had, the rough way he dealt with his enemies and even allies. Until the end of his life, he was brave enough to stand as a man for his country’s freedom and not for his selfish priorities.
With the the film’s quick plot, I was surprised when it ended after almost two hours. In a short span of time, every historical personality became much alive, and even personal, by the way the actors portrayed them. John Arcilla, who played the role of Luna, convinced me that the general was more than a rash character from my school textbooks. His eyes had this hint of madness that made Luna look much like him (add it with the general’s mustache). Yet, he had also embodied the other dimensions of his character very clearly.
No need to impose how realistic this film should be, as the facts in this part of Luna’s life was well narrated even with a few symbolisms, especially his assassination. (Oops, sorry for spoilers) Jerrold Tarog, the director of his film, had been ingenious in weaving history and relating it to our social consciousness. He had reintroduced a tragic but praiseworthy figure once forgotten in our classes. With that he brought an awakening to a demoralization that has never been cured until now.
This film showed us more than Luna’s character. Though it was not proven in history who killed Luna (though most viewers had implied it to be the president himself), his death had shown how much we are still dealing with the so-called cancer of society: treachery, greed, and selfishness. As Luna was eliminated by Filipino soldiers, the film revealed how his own countrymen was ready to put away unity for the sake of their own selfish agendas. So it is with our society today. I’ve seen this scene many times with our leaders, eliminating one another through character assassination. But I believe it’s not only hitting the political arena, but it goes out to all of us, as well. Luna’s question echoes to many, “Kaya natin magbuwis ng buhay sa pamilya pero para sa isang prinsipiyong makabayan? (If we can sacrifice our lives for our own families can we not do it for our country?)”. What I got was more than a story, but a reality that we have to tackle and address.
I once thought that Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Jose Rizal (1998) was the best period film my generation could see. Jerrold Tarog had proven himself a genius in recreating a period film, making it worthy for Oscars. It brought back my faith that we Filipinos can create noteworthy period films that can be entertaining, mind-opening, and worth the sacrifice to see it.