10 September 2015, 4:10 pm – A MASTERFUL retelling of the Filipino resistance against American invaders from the vantage point of its ablest general, “Heneral Luna” (Artikulo Uno Productions) blends fact and fiction, history and humor to bare the larger (and uncomfortable) truths in Philippine society.

The film opens with the revolutionary cabinet of President Emilio Aguinaldo (Mon Confiado) bogged down by infighting as America’s “manifest destiny” as the new global superpower
looms over Manila Bay. The political and economic elites, represented by Pedro Paterno (Leo Martinez) and Felipe Buencamino (Nonie Buencamino), want fighting to end and the Philippines to become an American protectorate. The brash military tactician Antonio Luna (John Arcilla) however insists on a pre-emptive strike and a war for independence.

The Stars and Stripes advances to the gates of Intramuros and eagerly replaces Spain at the seat of the colonial government. As Luna struggles to hold the defensive lines against the
ensuing American attack, he ruffles big-time feathers in his obsession for military obedience, and earns the ire of a Caviteño faction of generals that answers only to Aguinaldo. A conspiracy develops and Luna is butchered by the Kawit brigade in Cabanatuan. American military officers gloat at their successful divide-and-conquer strategy, but lament the demise of “the only real general” the Filipino army had.

The question posed by the film is as relevant today as it was a century ago: With people’s ambitions and narrow self-interest getting in the way of nationhood, who is the real enemy? As social commentary, “Heneral Luna” indicts the elites for putting economic above national interest, and the Filipino for prioritizing kith and kin over common good.

Arcilla is perfectly cast as Luna, portraying the Thomasian hero as aggressive and arrogant, but willing to sacrifice his life to attain self-rule for the motherland. He wins the sympathy of Prime Minister Apolinario Mabini (Epi Quizon). Arcilla’s acting brilliance is evident as he humanizes Luna as brother and son, passionate lover and romantic, and paternalistic military superior. There is no hint of the lack of ambition that Nick Joaquin claims is Luna’s flaw.

Jerrold Tarog’s film lives up to the billing “historical epic,” and trench warfare scenes evoke the feel of successful Hollywood war dramas like “Glory.” The use of colloquial Filipino makes it accessible to its target audience — millennials — without sacrificing artistry and entertainment value. “Heneral Luna” will make viewers laugh as there is no shortage of humor during war (and swear words fly around like bullets). Viewers will also cringe at the brutality of Luna’s assassination (a crime for which no one was ultimately held responsible). The scene of the crime mirrors the “Spoliarium” of Juan Luna, the general’s older

Tarog, who was named Best Director in Cinemalaya Director’s Showcase in 2013 for his romantic drama “Sana Dati,” employs impeccable production and costume design in “Heneral Luna,” something that has eluded Filipino period films that had bigger budgets.

“Heneral Luna” is showing in 91 cinemas nationwide. Students with ID’s get 50 percent off the ticket price.


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