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Heneral Luna — a must-watch movie for all Filipinos

There are movies that entertain, and there are movies that educate. And then there is the occasional movie that does both.  Heneral Luna, which is currently playing in movies nationwide (the number of theaters were reduced after a lackluster first week results, and then subsequently increased as positive word-of-mouth drove audiences to moviehouses during the second week) not only does a superb job of both entertaining and educating in a compelling way—it does a hell of a lot more.  In the two occasions that I watched the movie in the last two weeks, the audience broke into spontaneous and sustained applause as the credits rolled, something that rarely happens today, and particularly when it involves a local movie.

There is absolutely no doubt that Heneral Luna is well-crafted movie.  It’s a period film, which usually becomes an occasion for nitpicking.  The people behind Luna tries hard to keep the production as authentic as possible, but whatever lapses and oversights become overshadowed by the tight storytelling, the outstanding technical elements, and the exceptional performances of the actors.  John Arcilla as Antonio Luna inhabits the role like second skin; it’s not engaging in hyperbole to say even his spittle seems deliberately timed.

There are many reasons why Heneral Luna should be required viewing for all Filipinos.  It is a movie that engages audiences to challenge many of our appreciation of certain critical and pivotal moments in Philippine history and the roles played, the decisions made, and the actions pursued by the people we collectively refer to as heroes and consequently placed on pedestals.  History, after all, is most often reduced to accounts about the courage and valor of the pivotal players of certain epic events during the revolution; the frailties of our heroes and the many tragic stories of conspiracy and betrayal that led to their downfall, are usually presented as footnotes.  We’re generally kinder, particularly to people who died during the revolution. Unfortunately, it’s precisely this collective effort to sweep under the rug the many unfortunate and embarrassing events in our history that hobbled and even pulled back our development as a nation that explains our continuing inability to learn from our mistakes.

Watching Heneral Luna is like holding a mirror in front of our faces and being confronted with our foibles and follies as a people.  This exercise is usually attended by a lot of giggling and defensive laughter, but not while watching Heneral Luna where the sense of rage and anger borne out of realization is almost palpable.

In one scene, Luna successfully sequestered a train to be used to ferry soldiers to the battlefields in Bagbagin and Novaliches; the soldiers could not be accommodated in the train because the officials have already commandeered the train for the pleasure of their families who, naturally got the choice seats.  The tempestuous Luna had to throw everyone out lamenting the Filipino’s complete devotion to their families, sometimes to the exclusion and detriment of the country or the common good.  This same predilection remains today —I have come across many politicians who, even in public speeches, have intoned the hierarchy of their affections thus:  God, Family, Self, and then country.  Notice, for example, how we tend to allocate the best seats or the choice arrangements in public occasions for family members of politicians, and how these people eventually prioritize members of their families for political largesse, advantages, and other political benefits—even those who proclaim to be servant leaders and who make a big fuss about how they are all about serving their constituents, the poor, and the underprivileged.

There are many of these powerful scenes that tug at our collective conscience because we know these incidents continue to haunt us today.  The utter inability among Aguinaldo’s cabinet members to come to an agreement on critical issues and for dissenters to respect decisions arrived at is something is a continuing malady; in our country, our leaders never concede defeat be it an election, an argument, or an advocacy—they scheme, they filibuster, and when all else fails, they wait for their turn to assume power at which point they insist on revising everything to suit their own interests and agenda.  This is why many programs never really get institutionalized—most end up being replaced or revised regardless of the fact that they are working well.  The legendary amor propio of people in positions of authority, the tendency to display blind obedience to individuals rather than to a chain of command, the predilection of the ruling elite to dissociate themselves from the situations of the majority of the people and to exist in a social vacuum, the tendency to identify with regional affiliations (Caviteños, Kapampangan, Bicolano) rather than think as Filipinos—all these are painfully illustrated in Heneral Luna.  All these, are sadly, maladies that we continue to suffer from as a people.

The best movies are those that affect the audience in a powerful way; either provoke higher-level thinking, or move them into positive action.  If we have more movies like Heneral Luna, we’d have more luck empowering our people. It’s easy to blame producers and directors who prefer to churn out inane movies about mistresses and ex-lovers, but the audience is actually not powerless either.  If everyone supports Heneral Luna, then more producers and directors will be emboldened to replicate it.  So please go and watch Heneral Luna.  I promise you it will be really worth it.

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