What probably makes Heneral Luna a great movie is the fact that it does not attempt to make a saint out of the hero.
Malupit siya, abusado, mayabang!
This is what Felipe Buencamino says at the end of the movie, obviously referring to General Antonio Luna. And in the most twisted way, despite the bitter taste of the general’s assassination, you couldn’t really disagree with Buencamino. General Luna can be cruel, vulgar, and controlled by pride. The movie doesn’t fail to show Luna’s humanity. It shows Luna as a ruthless leader, a loyal friend, a charming lover, and an obedient son. But more importantly, it also doesn’t fail to show the core of his humanity: his love for his country.
As much as I would want this to be a formal review, I cannot reduce my thoughts to something so structured. It’s been hours since I saw the film (long overdue since I should have watched it during its first week but I never had the time), and I still can’t stop thinking about it. But it’s not because it has the makings of a classic. It’s not because of the cinematography and the actors’ brilliant acting. No, it’s not even about Luna’s heroism and tragedy.
What makes the film so unnerving for me is that, if you think about it, most of us are more similar to Paterno, Mascardo, Buencamino, and Janolino than we are to Luna. In times of desperation, such as war, it is a lot easier to favour our businesses, families, and personal interests rather than do what is right. It is so much easier to stay quiet than fight.
When watching the film, many of us are bound to hate the villains (we know who they are). Because of our natural sense of righteousness, the horrific death of General Luna doesn’t sit well with us.
But then again, if we had another Luna in our midst, would we agree with his callous ways? Would we be comfortable with his way of discipline and control? Would we hate him for his guts? Would we avenge our bruised pride by executing the abusado? Would we, like Buencamino, justify his death by thinking he deserves it?
Unfortunately, the film portrays not only the humanity of General Luna but also the humanity of the villains. The film has successfully avoided vilifying them (or at least, that’s how I perceived it). It made me think of how possible it is to be like a modern day Buencamino or Janolino — or a modern day Aguinaldo — which is actually much easier than be like a modern day Luna.
Unfortunately, in the same way that Luna was not portrayed to be a saint, the men who ultimately killed him, if you think about it, were also portrayed to be acting on the basis of humanity. It goes against our very nature to forgive and forget. Yes, it is the right thing, but it can be impossible to do. It is difficult to choose the high road and not avenge your pride when given the chance. We may not admit it now, but if someone calls your child a coward or humiliates you in public, how would you react? Wouldn’t you, honestly, be thirsting for revenge, too?
This is in no way a justification of their actions but an attempt to understand the frailty of our humanity and how flawed human nature is. Giving in to this human nature is exactly what sealed Luna’s, Buencamino’s, Janolino’s, and Aguinaldo’s fates.
And being able to portray this is what makes Heneral Luna the best of its kind.
- Every actor — from John Arcilla down to the unnamed extras — in this film is brilliant.
- Director Jerrold Tarog is a genius.
- The theatre we were in was almost packed. There is hope for the Philippine cinema.
- During the last 15 minutes of the film, save for the occasional curses from the gentlemen in the crowd, the whole theatre was so deathly quiet, you could hear a pin drop.
- And when the film has finally ended, the crowd erupted into a spontaneous applause.
- I just realised my friends and I weren’t able to take a picture of ourselves during the entire movie date, not before, not after. I guess the film doesn’t deserve a “selfie.” It deserves serious contemplation.