At the beginning of Heneral Luna was a reminder that the movie is a work of fiction based on historical events. That certain truths about history are better understood by mixing fact and imagination. It was a curious disclaimer that made me a little uncomfortable. Was Heneral Luna more interested in recreating history, or was it commenting on what we’ve been told as history?
Heneral Luna dwelt on the life of General Antonio Luna, particularly during the beginning of the Philippine-American war, immediately after Spain sold the Philippines to the United States. Early on, the movie did not hesitate on its depiction of American imperialism. But even more than the Americans, the movie has very little good to say of many of the Filipino leaders from that era, such as the Caviteños.
Especially the Caviteños.
A quick scan on the biography of Antonio Luna can help one determine the liberties the movie took in presenting his life. The movie carefully avoided cramming the entirety of his biography beyond the war against the Americans. The general’s backstory was presented through a magnificent flashback that looked as if it was a long one-take shot.
The flashback was probably the best part of the movie; to be fair, it wasn’t at all lacking of good parts. Another standout sequence was an extended argument between General Luna and General Mascardo: the clever editing allowed a seamless flow of dialogue despite the two being in different locations and communicating via telegram and messengers.
The movie did not avoid depicting the general’s many flaws: his famous temper, his arrogance, his lack of skill in political maneuvering.
If there was something to complain about the movie, it was, ironically, the battle scenes. For a movie set during a war, the scenes in the trenches were quite underwhelming. The movie was a careful balance of drama and comedy, and the combination worked well, for the most part. But it felt like there was too much comedy during those battle scenes, taking away the gravity of war.
It didn’t help how General Luna would appear bullet-proof during these scenes, standing openly without protection while everyone else is huddled and hiding themselves from bullets. And yet the general was not hit, despite several of his men getting fired; one very gorily so. Even in history books, Luna was one of the most badass of the Philippine heroes. But his movie version cranked it up further.
Another intriguing detail the movie added but was content in leaving it as a joke were the inclusion of women soldiers. Outside the sequence where those brave women appeared, the rest of the Philippine military were decidely all-male. It was quite frustrating how that opportunity to depict the bravery of Filipinas was diminished to a mere gag.
These minor complaints aside, Heneral Luna is still worth watching, especially now when complacency and armchair activism are fashionable among Filipinos. The movie argues that what lost the war was people’s inability to see beyond their self-interests. It’s a lesson that is just as relevant now as it did a century ago.
“Heneral Luna” was written by E.A. Rocha, Henry Hunt Francia, and Jerrold Tarog. Starring John Arcilla, Mon Confiado, Arron Villaflor, Joem Bascon, Archie Alemania, Epi Quizon, and Nonie Buencamino. Directed by Jerrold Tarog.