#HeneralLuna The film Heneral Luna promised that it would disturb the audience. It is an obvious reference to the toned down history lessons conducted in schools. Also, most biopics that featured Philippine national heroes would rather present these people as “heroes”. Not humans. Director Jerrold Tarog’s version of one of the highly contested parts of Philippine history used some creative license. But only what is enough to corroborate with what the historians have researched about the titular character.
There are some history nerds that viewed this film as a reaction to Director Mark Meily’s “El Presidente”. That was the Emilio Aguinaldo biopic where his political opponents Andres Bonifacio and Gen. Antonio Luna are presented in a negative light. Did the film Heneral Luna defend Gen. Luna? Not really. That is the risk of trying to humanize a rather revered (and polarizing) historical figure. You need to acknowledge the imperfections that he tried to manage in the course of achieving his nationalist goals.
There was a scene in the film Heneral Luna where his aggressive behavior is addressed. In a heated argument with cabinet member Felipe Buencamino, the latter mentioned how his behavior is consistent with his last name. “Luna. Lunatiko!” (Lunatic) Lunacy allegedly ran in his family. That if his elder brother, critically-acclaimed painter Juan Luna, was only tried in the Philippines, he would get the death penalty. Gen. Luna reacted in a way that Buencamino wanted him to. Enraged.
The retort is more of a cheap shot because Buencamino is not that good at defending his stance. He wanted a deal with the incoming American troops along with fellow cabinet member Pedro Paterno. Just because Gen. Luna addressed the duo’s personal interests, one of them attacked the person instead of addressing the accusation. It doesn’t sound anything new. But seeing faces and attaching names to typical politicians made you question the history textbooks. Gen. Luna could be any idealistic military officer with a disdain for pragmatic politicians with a temper to fear for. The film Heneral Luna presented the typical conflict between nationalism and pragmatism.
And you realize how colorful Philippine history is. The film Heneral Luna tried to strike a balance between scenes in the battlefield and in office meetings. As much as the cabinet meetings annoyed him, he kept his composure. But his rage is seething at the surface. He hated the time wasted on meetings. It could have been spent on collecting weapons and additional troops instead. He had a bad feeling about the presence of American troops. It was so timely as Spain’s stronghold on the Philippines is slipping away. Hearing news of Spain handing Manila over to the United States of America aggravated this ill feeling.
The film Heneral Luna managed to present the struggles on the field too. Gen. Luna is dedicated to the job. Hence expecting the same dedication from his troops. When one of the men tried to go away, Gen. Luna tried to stop him. He even gave him a loaded rifle. But the poor felon was too scared to continue even if Gen. Luna clutched him by his uniform. He scampered for his life without even looking back. Not even if Gen. Luna yelled at him “Duwag!” (Coward!) Another soldier was mortally wounded but conscious enough to acknowledge Gen. Luna’s presence. He was apologetic but didn’t run away even if he had the strength to do so. Gen. Luna promoted the soldier right on the spot before he was transferred to a stretcher. The soldier was teary-eyed when he thanked Gen. Luna. Minutes later, he expired.
Gen. Luna hates scenes like these. Here he is trying to keep the stronghold protected. And he finds the camp housing what could have been the reinforcement troops in disarray. Troops’ uniforms were disheveled. They were also caught playing cards. And their captain was asleep with a half-naked woman. His men are dying on the field while the supposed reinforcements are sitting comfortably in their barracks. Who will not snap at that kind of idiocy? The film Heneral Luna addressed the elephant in the room so to speak.
Humanizing Gen. Luna in the film Heneral Luna also meant showing that he had a life. That there are some things about his life that you may not like. Then again you realize that Spain’s influence on the Philippines is slipping away the moment you see relationships. Gen. Luna had a lover named Isabel. (I know what you’re thinking. There is no mention of her last name here.) She was from a prominent family. (I said no last name mentioned) And by Filipino standards, she is a spinster. She managed to stay single but got into a relationship with Gen. Luna. And she is resigned to her fate as someone temporary in Gen. Luna’s life. “Ang asawa mo ay ang gera at ako ang kerida.” (Your wife is war and I am your mistress) An obvious reference to how history viewed Gen. Luna as war-happy type of general.
Did the film Heneral Luna managed to let its titular character defend himself? Yes. Gen. Luna’s reply to that quote is how war is not his wife. War is his cross to bear. (Nice analogy about marriage.) Even his scuffles with the American troops is addressed too. He viewed America is the Philippines’ next colonizer. And he doesn’t understand why America is into annexing territories now. They were once a colonized nation themselves. They knew the struggles their own troops had to face in their attempt to push the Brits out of their homeland. Why would the nation colonized once be the colonizers now? Gen. Luna’s reaction is simply to defend the homeland.
The film Heneral Luna is an unapologetic view of how Gen. Luna exercised his brand of nationalism. Uncompromising. Some viewers would be miffed at Mabini’s comment at how Gen. Luna does not know politics. Then again, the political maneuverings behind Gen. Luna’s back are enough to get Gen. Luna’s contemporary supporters even angrier. And his eventual death is visually blamed on his refusal to compromise. This is how the film Heneral Luna managed to keep its promise. The audience is now disturbed.
Now before you conclude that the film Heneral Luna is a bone-dry boring attempt at humanizing Gen. Luna, hold your horses. Humanizing historical figures meant showing awkward moments that are coincidental with fulfilling their duties. Gen. Luna is one of the earliest implementors of the power of eminent domain. Anything that the state owned is subject to be utilized. So he had to arrest the American trader that used a train for his business because he is not a Filipino citizen. With very little English knowledge, Gen. Luna yelled at his men to just arrest the American as he ran out of basic English to argue with the latter.
Gen. Luna also believed in the law. When his elder brother was arrested, he just laughed it off. The brother’s reputation preceded him. So Gen. Luna let him stay in jail. He believed in the law so much that he declared no one to be above the law. Not even the president. And he didn’t give a hoot if other people heard. The law may be harsh. But it is the law. Too bad he was too harsh. The film Heneral Luna addressed the hypothesis that he is already into the early stages of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in scenes like these.
But who didn’t suffer in this film? Everyone is susceptible to it. But they have different ways of reacting to war. Rosca is the character that stood out the most among Gen. Luna’s troops. He admires his general. But he didn’t lose his sense of humor. More like sardonic sense of humor. He would jeer at soldiers scampering away from war while trying to reload his rifle. “Daig nyo pa mga babae!” (You’re worse than the women!) You realize how casual war has become for him the moment you see his reaction to a fellow soldier’s brains getting blown up. It was a stark contrast to how Americans kept themselves sane during the Philippine American War. They drank. The film Heneral Luna managed to humanize even the supposed trigger-happy Americans.
Don’t forget to take everything with a grain of salt though. The film Heneral Luna did not forget attaching the crucial disclaimer about creative license. Teaching you history meant stopping you from questioning everything that you are told. Our educational system is accustomed to objective type, multiple choice and enumeration. Students are taught to memorize, not to understand or critically analyze the lessons given to them. Correcting the way history is taught to students today may be a far-fetched idea. But letting them see the film Heneral Luna is a step in the right direction. And it helped a lot that John Arcilla gave justice (and the right amount of lunacy) to the role of Gen. Luna.
The film Heneral Luna is still showing in theaters. Comparisons with other historical films is inevitable. It is easier to merit a film for all it has when you have seen it yourself as compared to relying alone on reviews like this. More information is found at their official website here. Real-time updates are also found on their official Facebook page that you can click here. Finally, subscribe to their official YouTube channel. Give them props for such a great film too. It would inspire them to produce and direct quality infotainment projects like the film Heneral Luna.
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