by Heinrich Domingo
We are all story-tellers meddling with history. Our reading of the past is as personal as our preference of what is good and bad. The makers of Heneral Luna boldly write history from their own perspective without question or doubt. Banking on ingenious script, charismatic humor, and chic cinematography, the movie stomps its feet hard and readily marches forward.
The movie starts with a caveat – not every frame you see happened in reality. It allowed creativity in the plot in the hope that life lessons can be delivered. Here, we see a warning for any alterations on the Philippine history. It is a premonition for what to expect in the development of the storyline.
Heneral Luna begins with a contextualization of the flow of events. Introductions are given to characters integral in the narrative. Beside their living busts are their descriptions. The film willingly babysits the ignorant audience who might be unfamiliar with history. It goes on in presenting historical figures that we just read in textbooks. In areas where historical references are lacking, the film intelligently fills the void. It is where bold claims were made on the personalities of Emilio Aguinaldo, Apolinario Mabini, Juan and Antonio Luna, and even Douglas McArthur.
Taking a leaf from the pages of Ambeth Ocampo’s writings, the film then humanizes Antonio Luna. They present him as a strong-willed military genius often accused of lunacy. His actions are often absurd beautifully embodied by John Arcilla. This is supported by equally notable performances from other casts – Mon Confiado, Mylene Dizon, and Joem Bascon to name a few.
Cinematography provided a consistent thematic feel throughout the movie. This is accompanied by a well-thought production design. Details are put into consideration and are often hints on the deeper meaning of the story. One cannot simply miss the recurring allusions to Juan Luna’s paintings. In general, Heneral Luna sends a visual message that is chic. It is different from the crude style of many independent films.
The effectiveness of the script came not as a surprise as the screenplay has previously won an award. The exchange of line was just right. Humor inserted in various scenes can tickle the funny bone of the Filipino audience. Yet, in an attempt to please its apparent audience choice, the film has to advance its humor to slapstick comedy. Moviegoers are rewarded with ‘joyful’ soundtrack in the background coupled with an over-the-top acting that would ensure full blast laughter from the crowd. If this is ineffective in engaging the public, what could be?
These little ‘adjustments’ put Heneral Luna under the scrutiny of academic and scholar viewers. For purists, romanticizing heroism could be as dangerous as not presenting it at all. Being meddlers of history, the filmmakers have already played with a piece that is considered by many as holy. Although, the film has repeatedly given cautions on the historical accuracy of the narrative, it is highly interesting to look at the reception of these historians.
There will be criticisms and disappointments from people in the academe, but the film, from the beginning, is certain of its audience. It is a work that intends to draw on closer to the public the once aloof image of our heroes. The Ilustrados. The wealthy. The few. Common Filipino folks cannot relate to these. As a result, the film’s treatment is inclusive. Through common traits such emotional outbursts, betrayal, and forwarding personal interests, the viewers can go home with a personal piece from their national hero. With this objective, Heneral Luna can claim its success.
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