IF HENERAL Luna does not win the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars in 2016, it will not matter. Because I already know it is the best. And I don’t need American validation for it to be true.
Heneral Luna is a movie that is beautifully crafted — conceptually, technically, and politically. It has high production values at the same time it has integrity in the sense that the filmmaker, Jerrold Tarog, told the story as he imagined it and the final product came out resembling his vision of it going in.
In a “Behind the Scenes” interview, Tarog, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Ed Rocha, shared that his inspiration in making the film about Antonio Luna was to show what Nick Joaquin noted as the tendency of Filipinos to attempt to build something together but end up collapsing and being in pieces. And Tarog was able to tell that tragic story beautifully.
Before the storytelling began, there was this disclaimer of sorts: “This is a work of fiction based on historical facts.” And I believe it’s the best way to tell the story of that period in our history. With just the right mixture of reality and imagination, it revealed a lot of truth about ourselves.
The movie showed how we were actually many nations — the Caviteño nation, the Kapampangan nation, the Ilocano nation, the Bicolano nation, and so on. Nation is from the Latin “natio” meaning people, tribe, or kin. It is a collective of people with common characteristics attributed to them including language, traditions, customs, habits, and ethnicity. Because of our colonization, we were forced to become one nation under the control of the Spaniards, then the Americans. We forged our common identity as Filipinos because we were subjugated by a common enemy — our colonizers.
However, whether Mindanao had been part of that Filipino nation when the Treaty of Paris was signed is still a highly debatable point. Well, if we just base it on the movie Heneral Luna, the American commander who took over Intramuros only said this: “Welcome to Manila, men! She is ours!” So for me, it’s only Manila they conquered. Perhaps, it is best if our Manila-centric legislators take note of that fact when they decide the fate of the Bangsamoro (Moro nation).
Luna tried to unify our armed forces by imposing one uniform but, unfortunately, it takes more than that to become a unified army. And if our soldiers were difficult to organize, it is even more challenging to unite all these different nations, these diverse peoples with various interests. That is just the reality of our geography. We are really divided into different regions. It is neither good nor bad. It just is.
Perhaps, it is time to forge our Filipino identity based on a shared vision of our imagined nation. We need to collectively decide what we want to become. It’s not just about fighting against a common enemy anymore. It is about creating a common destiny. Because for better or for worse, we are now stuck with one another. We all share this country called the Philippines and we are all Filipino citizens. So now what?
In the early part of the movie, Luna told the young Joven, who was interviewing him for an article he was writing: “It is easier for the earth to meet the sky than for two Filipinos to agree on anything.”
He was referring to the debate in President Emilio Aguinaldo’s cabinet on how they should handle the presence of the Americans in the Philippines. For Luna, the Americans, like the Spaniards, were enemies who should be fought. For the elite members of the cabinet, who collaborated with the Spaniards as well, the Americans were good for business. Luna then asked them: “Business or freedom? You choose!”
Obviously our government leaders then chose business because the Americans never left. They are still here. And we are still not free. And only the same elite few are profiting from the same businesses at the expense of the masses. The only difference between then and now is that now we are no longer fighting the Americans, we are only fighting among ourselves.
Rocha, who also produced the movie aside from co-writing it, has a theory on why Filipinos are “still messed up.” He said: “Because we don’t know what happened in our past. We were fed the wrong information.” Well, as they say, history is written by the winners. And Filipinos have yet to win against the Americans (I am not talking about the Oscars).
Fernando Ortigas, one of the movie’s producers, revealed that he was drawn to Heneral Luna in his search for the answer to this question: “Why do we kill our own heroes?”
Is it because they speak the truth about ourselves and we refuse to accept it? Is it because they make us look bad and make us feel even worse? Or is it simply because they are bad for business?
Heneral Luna showcased the best and the worst of the Filipino in equal amounts. “There are no villains in the movie just as there are no heroes, too. They are just people with their own motivations and principles. They are humans,” Tarog explained.
I would like to believe the business of being human is to always strive for freedom. I hope to live long enough to see this kind of business thrive in the Philippines.