Bayan o Sarili: A Review on Heneral Luna
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“Textbook history tells us about the tragic death of Antonio Luna, but fails to detail the events that led to his blood end. This film, Heneral Luna, reminds us that history does not repeat itself; it is we who repeat it. the film underscores the challenge that remains — How do we liberate ourselves from the past?”
—Ambeth Ocampo, historian and teacher
Heneral Luna is Director Jerrold Tarog’s take on the story of General Antonio Luna, the military genius who led the Philippine army during the American invasion near the end of the 19th century. In spite of the film’s initial disclaimer that it is a fictional representation of true events, Luna’s personal ideologies, military exploits and political struggles are shown in vivid and memorable detail as one scene follows another.
Tarog adds a few lighthearted twists to Luna’s austerity as the head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and expertly juxtaposes the heated disputes the general is involved in as a member of the cabinet of Emilio Aguinaldo.
Additionally, actor John Arcilla wonderfully executes his role as the famed general. In the film, Arcilla masterfully portrays Luna as an aggressive military leader and zealous nationalist, without failing to show the general’s kindheartedness and sense of humor. The actor also shows the general as a flawed individual with his violent emotional outbursts — hereby accentuating Luna’s humanness. Ultimately, Arcilla turns Luna into a peace-seeking individual whom other sees as a warmonger.
Supporting Arcilla is a cast that includes Mon Confiado as Emilio Aguinaldo, Joem Bascon as Col. Francisco Roman and Mylene Dizon as Isabel, who effectively do justice to the roles they play. The cast’s interactions with one another emphasize the clashing opinions of the people they portray toward Luna — the obedience and the insubordination, the respect and the fear, and the love and the contempt.
Another praiseworthy aspect of the film is how understandable it is with today’s generation. The characters speak in an almost colloquial Filipino without compromising the artistry of the language. Additionally, no scene in the film is made dull with the humorous dialogue, suspenseful action sequences and the score Tarog himself composed.
The best feature of Heneral Luna, however, is perhaps its insightful portrayal of Luna’s fierce conviction — that no man is above the law of the country. This acts as the main driving force of the events in the film, as Luna’s stern belief opposes those of his political colleagues concerned only with their self-interests. It is also with this belief that Luna’s past is explored and how he gained both the loyalty and the infidelity of his comrades.
In general, the liberties Tarog takes with Heneral Luna makes the film a dramatic tragicomedy. In the end, the film is as thought-provoking as it is upbeat, making us ask a question as relevant in the past as it is in the present: Bayan o sarili?
Heneral Luna will be shown in Philippine theatres on Sept. 9.