I STILL love the film Heneral Luna directed by Jerrold Tarrog and written by Henry Hunt Francia, E.A. Rocha, and Tarrog, based on the work of historian Vivencio Jose.
But in the aftermath of the film’s success, given the noise it has generated, the issues it has brought to light, the criticism against it, the manner in which the people who created it have been silent (or silenced) by the more dominant voices that have been allowed to “claim” the film, I have rethought this love.
Because that’s what one is supposed to do when faced with a contrary opinion about anything at all. Take stock, ask questions, rethink, rethink, rethink.
But as with many things, what the Heneral Luna aftermath has revealed is how this country’s “intelligentsia” is still as messed up about nation, lost about our functions as “thinkers,” removed from the generation for whom this film will be most important.
It also sadly reveals too much ego.
Hagiography and the question of empire
The more interesting critiques against this film spoke about how in the task of making Antonio Luna more human, what the film ended up doing was hagiography, i.e., or making him over as a saint.
Many have spoken as well about how in the process of highlighting Luna’s firm stand for nation, which made enemies of Filipinos like Buencamino and Paterno who believed in forging a friendship with America – Filipinos whom Luna called traitors –what the film limned over was the role of America as colonizer, as the evil hand that continues to meddle in our affairs as nation.
And yet my reaction to the film was totally the opposite. I thought that the conversations about America, and the way the film painted America, were enough to begin a conversation about the role America continues to play in our politics and governance. I thought all the arguments between Luna and Buencamino and Paterno, resonated with the present, and were enough to begin a discussion about how and why Filipinos find it in their best interest to stay indebted to America.
But also, I thought that the portrayal of the Americans was enough to highlight how little they thought of us as a people, and how Luna was like the loose canon they did not expect of the colonized. His foolishness, his persistence, his courage, his smarts – these surprised the Americans. What did not surprise them was how disunited we were, how we could not get our act together and take a stand for the creation of nation.
And this is also what kept me from imagining that this was hagiography that Heneral Luna was creating: at no time did I think that Luna was being sold as saint. In fact one is hard put to even imagine him a good man, a compassionate man. He was a soldier, and he went above and beyond the call of duty by making the choice of nation against everything and everyone else. This was not about Luna being a righteous man. Nor simply about making him more human. This was about showing him as a man of conviction, one that was about choosing nation and independence over everything else, to the point of lunacy.
And yes that has its pitfalls, absolutely. But one would like to think that what is valuable about this film’s portrayal of Luna is how things were so clear cut for him – bayan o sarili, Pilipinas o America, kaibigan o kaaway. One would like to think that these are still important questions to ask, important choices to make, and these are valuable no matter how jaded we are, no matter how certain we are with our answers. Especially since there’s a whole new generation for whom these questions are new.
Generation gap, history in schools
Unlike Karen Davila who detailed the kind of history she learned in high school and said that she didn’t learn much, I was in a DECS homestudy program all of high school, which is to say I was taught no history subject, and in fact did a lot of my learning at home, with my parents and brother, and the endless piles of books that they provided.
Central to this renewed discussion about history classes is not Heneral Luna itself, but a moviegoer’s reaction to Epi Quizon’s character Apolinario Mabini, asking why he was seated throughout the film. Quizon had asked via Twitter: what have we been teaching in schools?
But the better question should be who’s in control of our educational system and the teaching it fosters? Because to ask what and how are we teaching our kids is to automatically point a finger at our underpaid, overworked teachers. In fact the crux of this problem is in our textbooks, and the kind of raket that it is, where the worst books are being used in our schools, and the better ones are dismissed as too difficult or just unnecessary to the curriculum already developed.
The better point to make is how this government’s K-12 will mean even less hours teaching history, and how what we’ve seen of the K-12 textbooks have yet to convince us that it will mean more intelligent discussions about history and our past as nation.
Social media aftermath
Neither should we be picking on the younger ones who dare speak out about Heneral Luna, asking questions about the parts of the film they did not understand. Engaging with them need not mean looking down on them or using a tone that makes them feel stupid for even asking questions.
It is unclear now why historian Alvin Campomanes’ voice has dominated the conversation about Heneral Luna, when he was not part of the film’s production, and seems to have only become part of it (along with historian Xiao Chua) after its creation, when they were touring it in schools, and talking about the film as finished product. It is unclear why the Heneral Luna writers have yet to speak about the film’s writing.
But Campomanes’ voice crossed the line from being critical viewer and academic who believes in this film, to being its mouthpiece and public relations officer, praising it to high heavens like it is faultless and flawless, and worse, making patol every negative review that has come its way. He invokes the fact of his being historian, pointing out in so many words the ignorance of these “critics” who just didn’t get it.
His voice has not helped in keeping our sanities intact with regards this film, and in fact it has layered the film with a yabang that it does not need – that one does not even hear from those who made the film itself.
And that assertion about piracy being a bigger enemy than America? Please. That’s just embarrassing. I mean I know it would be great if Heneral Luna stayed in theaters longer than it has, and earn more money than it has, so that more films like it may be made. But certinaly that does not mean being blind to the truth that a majority of students cannot afford the P100 bucks to watch this film. You want piracy to stop? Show the film for free.
Now that would be a service worthy of Heneral Luna, the film and the man. It’s the kind of aftermath you’d want for a film that seeks to change our view of history, by speaking of it in the present, and engaging a nation in a set of questions about it. You cannot do that in a country where a majority cannot afford to buy a movie ticket.
Bayan o sarili? This film asks. Now its makers must choose an answer. If the anti-piracy stand is any indication, well, I have a feeling Heneral Luna would not be happy with their answer.