Image Credits: Jessica Olaivar via Instagram
Director: Jerrold Tarog
Lead Actor: John Arcilla as General Antonio Luna
Official Entry: Best Foreign Language Film Category in the Oscars 2016
Heneral Luna is a movie I almost failed to see. One, I am weary of Filipino war movies and second, I thought it was a waste of money. Good thing, I was mistaken on both counts.
The movie opened with a pristine Filipino flag that seemed to be saying that idealism and hope are alive and well in the old world. The General was discussing uniforms and how this will somehow spark unity among an army of people deep into regionalism and self-service. I was thinking that for a military man honed in the skill of battle, he was naive in thinking that people can be changed from the outside; a change that is powerful enough to change what is within.
AND that’s exactly why I love the Antonio Luna in this movie. He was demystified and made unholy, yet devout in his ideals, bigger than the history books that depicted him and yet, sadly, small like a fly in an ointment of all pervasive greed, pride and politics (and not necessarily in that order!).
How do you Solve a Problem Like Heneral Luna?
For those that killed him, it should be quick, decisive and clothe in cunningness. The movie was building to a scene where you, as a voyeur would have no choice but to anticipate what’s coming, however ugly it’s going to be. Boy, it was revolting. For the talented crew whose objective was to make people feel “something”- disgust, sadness, repulsiveness or anger, thank you, we felt it all.
It doesn’t help that the movie was so polished and unafraid to show that black is black and white has no shades of gray. General Luna was a seasoned trouble-maker, the super killjoy of deceitful politicians who have no remorse, excuses or delicadeza; he can see right through the bull and had no compulsion to call anyone a traitor or a coward. Ouch! A lot of his contemporaries flinched.
A Different Kind of Storytelling
Hollywood cinematographers are one in saying that good cinematography is invisible. To say that a film is beautiful means that it has failed. For these artisans, cinematography becomes an art of storytelling; where the movie offers no distraction for its audience who were spellbound in the unfolding narrative.
It’s unsurprising why this movie has caught everyone by surprise. The audience didn’t know what has hit them so powerfully that it defied words. You are lost in the the moment where all it existed was you, the General and the unfolding drama. You realized you are vulnerable because this movie will change you and you might not like it at all, but nonetheless, you are unable to walk away.
The movie is so modulated that the shifting scenes eases sleekly from serious drama to comic relief, action to romance but always preserving the tenor of the cinematography which is in harmony with the changing crescent of the story. The various images have set the stage for the story’s tone, regardless of innumerable moods that the story may show. Truly a remarkable film!
Powerful Images and Symbols
I immediately noticed the use of bokeh in one scene depicting Heneral Luna on top of a mountain, all alone with his thoughts and religious faith. At a glance you understood the loneliness of being alone at the top, but this harsh reality was tempered with the effect of a blurry background. The sprinkling of soothing, glowing, colorful orbs with no jagged edges while showing a close-up of a pensive Luna is absolutely stunning. It tempers and comforts the audience into accepting that this is indeed the fate of people like the General.
The use of Filipino flag images make you think. The movie started with an image of an immaculate flag depicting idealism. Somewhere along the way, reality happened and we are left with a disturbing scene of a man, his back facing the screen and watching the same pristine flag slowly burn. Only when the flames have completely consumed the flag did he leave slowly.
You realized that this man burnt the flag in secrecy, methodically igniting from the bottom part, which is how it should be done as a sign of respect for disposing older and tattered flags. Yet, this flag burner didn’t have the courage to show the world what he had done, unlike the images we have today of massive protests shown in many media circus.
The end scene still showed the pervading mood of deceit, concealment and duplicity.
What Say You?
When I asked my daughter what she felt after watching the flick, she admitted feeling sad that things hasn’t changed in the last hundred years. I have to agree with her. If the General is alive today, it’s disconcerting to know that he will still suffer the same fate from the hands of his fellow Filipinos.
Sadly, an assassin’s heart transcends race and time. In the name of self-preservation, a human being will not hesitate to kill another, never mind if his intentions are clouded with greed and lust for more power. The animal kingdom is kinder and far more humane.
For me, the movie Heneral Luna sparked something within me. I found myself wanting what the General had – immense love for country, duty, courage, and all the things I had forgotten in the course of living. Hundreds of years later, this man is still rallying the present generation to his noble cause. I can hear him invoke his famous Artikulo Uno if we decided not to cooperate!
Thank you and rest well General. We had witnessed something bigger than us and it made us see ourselves for what we really are.
A similar storm is brewing in the horizon…another battle is just about to begin.
Heneral Luna is the official entry for the Best Foreign Language Category in the 2016 Oscars