Jerrold Tarog’s historical drama Heneral Luna has a disclaimer at the onset stating that the film is a work of fiction inspired by true events. His mission was clear – he wanted to highlight the ills and pains of our society including the betrayals that altered the history of our nation through his independently produced film.
In this noble effort, Tarog reintroduces a lesser known hero who fought against the United States in the Spanish-American War and was eventually assassinated (butchered as the film depicts it) by presidential guards. Portrayed by seasoned thespian John Arcilla, Tarog embroiders the character as if he’s a modern-day madman.
While history books tell us that Gen. Antonio Luna was an Ilustrado, highly-educated (he was fluent in French and Spanish and studied literature, chemistry and pharmacy) and with an elite upbringing, Tarog took Luna as a lunatic literally to the point of appearing to be a jester rather than a man who makes absurd yet prudent decisions.
Perhaps, that’s the director’s own way of making the hero more human and relatable to present-day audience discounting the fact that an Ilustrado albeit abrasive would still project some sort of sophistication. A hot-tempered military leader may lose his cool, becomes loud at times but not to the point that he would go rambo towards his men.
There are a few observations that confirms Heneral Luna is indeed a work of fiction. It has a pretty fair description of 19th century Filipino soldiers – they curse and have the same sensibilities of 21st century “tambay sa kanto” (take Archie Alemania’s character as Capt. Eduardo Rusca for example). It also begs audience to believe that a Filipino war correspondent existed during Luna’s time. He is a student and a writer who worked closely with the general but was not brutally executed like Luna and his elite group of men. This scribe lives to deliver an eulogy as implied before the closing credits appeared. In effect, it is the scribe (played by Aaron Villaflor) who narrates the whole story though not perfectly established.
The strength of the film lies on the actors. They portrayed their roles based on what the screenplay asked for. Arcilla, in particular, is a shoo-in for any acting award and so as Mon Confiado who plays Emilio Aguinaldo. The public would revolt on social media if he doesn’t win an acting award come film award season. And the members of the support cast did an impressive job, too. Everyone has a memorable moment but not too prominent enough to overshadow the central character.
In addition, Heneral Luna, as a work of fiction, triumphed in creating an engaging film fully supported by visually arousing scenes and camera works. Disregarding its flaws, it’s a beautiful template for any local war drama because it captures Filipino witticism amid in the middle of a conflict.
Nonetheless, Heneral Luna is a perfect pitch to remind people that even after a hundred years, most of us still live in a culturally deprived environment ruled by people who thrive solely for their personal agenda.