Fact, Fiction and Antonio Luna – Manila Bulletin

Screenshot from the film Heneral Luna, with the Filipino general trying to boost the morale of the revolutionary army

What I Disagree With Jerrold Tarog’s portrayal of Filipino hero General Antonio Luna in his 2015 film General Lunaportrayed to great effect by John Arcilla, is a line that appears at the start: “This is fiction based on fact.”

For a while there, I braced myself – Will the movie put Luna in a fantasy world? Is he, like Abraham Lincoln in Timur Bekmambetov Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, will kill vampires? Is he, like Oscar Wilde in Gyles Brandreth Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries, going to be a detective? Is he, like Adolf Hitler in Timur Vermes Look who’s backwill wake up in 2015 from a deep and long sleep in 1899?

But in the blink of an eye, the next few lines explained that all it took was creative license to rearrange the order of events, such as the battles in Luzon’s many cities, from Pampanga to Cavite to Intramuros. I have no doubt that much of the banter as well as conversation was contrived to supply the missing details from direct quotes and written and word of mouth accounts from extensive research, but that’s to be expected . I understand that certain characters, as crucial as their roles are, such as Isabela, Luna’s secret lover, embodied in equal parts mystery and revelation by Mylène Dizon, could not have been sufficiently fleshed out for lack of material evidence. I heard that the character of Dizon, the object of gossip as the film was all the rage that quietly took on the form of political intrigue, was an amalgamation of the women Luna loved, among them Nelly Bousted , over whom Luna allegedly betrothed Jose Rizal to a duel (but whose heart Rizal won); Conchita Castillo, to whom Luna wrote three days before he was killed; and Nicolasa Dayrit, a nurse. There were also discussions, which spread on social networks based on claims discussed openly before General Luna even came to the photo, that Isabela could have been Ysidra Cojuangco, but all Tarog said, as he posted on Facebook, was “Yeah, the character name is a nod to the fanatics of ‘Ysidra.’ I’ll leave you to investigate further on your own, if you’re intrigued enough.

The point is what I saw when I looked General Luna (twice) was not fiction, not historical fiction either, but a historical film that, needless to say, was just facts, not to mention the editing, the music, the styling, the lighting, costume design, script, cinematography and special effects that made this throwback to our story infinitely more entertaining, more exciting, more relevant and more challenging than the average history textbook which, so preoccupied with facts and facts only, is sure to chill your eyes, unless you’re a fact geek, researcher, historian, or history teacher.

John Arcilla in his portrayal of General Antonio Luna

But Jerrold Tarog is a filmmaker and his medium is shaped as much by infinite possibilities as by inflexible constraints. As a filmmaker, his job is to take people along and make sure the journey is worth it, especially if, as in General Luna, the journey takes just over two hours. No, he didn’t turn a true story into a siesta party, but a party where people talk, whisper, argue, even pull out their dusty old history books to tell fact from fiction. Isn’t that the point of art, to provoke thoughts, to make people think, to get people to ask questions and find answers for themselves?

I also think we minimize the importance of fantasy to our detriment. I believe in the importance of fantasy in creating a life. It’s not enough for us to eat, drink and sleep, it’s for the cows. We have to dream and that’s what the arts are for – music, painting, poetry, literature, fashion, theater and cinema, even biopics like General Lunawhose nature is to make art what otherwise would have been just everyday life, requiring creative freedoms to connect the dots and, more importantly, to make it larger than life enough to inspire very strong feelings about the story. General Luna, in this case, draws from the facts of the life of an underrated hero the message that now, as then, the greatest obstacle to our national identity is ourselves. Didn’t we all get the message?

Antonio Luna has definitely taken advantage of his 33 years and four months of his life as a Filipino. —Dr. Vivencio R. Jose

What I am sure of is that, thanks to General Luna, I know more about what happened to us back then, when the Americans took over the Spaniards in exploiting our nation – “Welcome to Manila, gentlemen. She is ours! Did the Americans say it that way? Maybe, maybe not, give the art of diplomacy the benefit of the doubt, but that was the general idea. And thanks to General Luna, I know Colonel Francisco “Paco” Roman, played by Joem Basco, whom I consider all the more heroic because his sacrifice was a thankless job, even if as the son of a rich man – his father was Spanish, his Filipino mother; he was educated at Ateneo and at a school in Hong Kong; and he helped finance the revolution before joining it – he could have had the choice not to get involved in the Philippine freedom struggle. Unlike Antonio Luna or even Apolinario Mabini, who died of cholera, Roman’s heroic life and death did not result in hero worship, at least not on my part, until the movie de Tarog puts him and the other loyal soldier, Captain Eduardo Rusca, whose character played by Archie Alemania provided plenty of comic relief, in the sidelights. I now know, however, that to this day there is a place in Sta. Ana called Paco Roman Street (check it on google maps).

General Luna perhaps more art than history, but it is in the interest of the historian, even a purist, to promote and use it and others like it, such as the second of the intended trilogy by Tarog, this time on Gregorio del Pilar, played in a somewhat preview role in General Luna by Paulo Avelino, to make more people clamor to know exactly what happened in our past.

Heneral Luna is still streaming on Netflix.