Heneral Luna: The Hero that our Generation Needs

Heneral Luna, a movie launched in 2015, still resonates with us today, four years later. Let me share my review of this movie four years ago, a few days after it was initially shown in cinemas with only a dozen viewers. It is by word of mouth that this movie got popular and gained more attention with the help of independent film showings. Thank goodness for that!

But before the review, a little background…

The Inspiration: Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil’s Essay

This is a little-known fact, but something that everyone must know. The inspiration for the Heneral Luna movie is actually the essay written by Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil, entitled A Plot to Kill a General.

This essay is included in the book Heroes and Villainswhich is a great collection of essays by the famed historian and journalist. This essay was also published in Philippine Star in October 2008.

At the home of Mr. Ismaél G. Cruz and his wife, Mrs. Bessie Ocampo-Cruz.

A copy of this book is hard to find nowadays. We were lucky to receive the last copy from Mr. Ismaél G. Cruz, son of Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil, himself! Mr. Cruz is also the great-grandnephew of our national hero, Jose Rizal.

Kudos to director Jerrold Tarog, who co-wrote the movie with Henry Francia and E.A. Rocha. The movie was produced by Artikulo Uno Productions. (What exactly is Artikulo Uno? Watch the movie and find out!)

For those studying or using the movie as a teaching material, here is a downloadable Heneral Luna study guide created by Alvin D. Campomanes.

Heneral Luna is currently available for streaming at Netflix.

Heneral Luna: A Review

If you haven’t seen Heneral Luna, then you are definitely missing out on a lot. There is a reason why netizens clamoured to bring the film back to theaters nationwide (in 2015).

One can assume that the movie is all about glorifying a Philippine hero, like what has been done in previous period movies like Jose Rizal, Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo, El Presidente, and a lot more. But the movie Heneral Luna is more than that. Much, much more.

Cast and Characters: More than Just Temper

The actors were not chosen for their name recall (for which our showbiz industry is very much reliant on), but for their acting quality.

And yes, thank goodness for that! John Arcilla, Noni Buencamino, Leo Martinez, Joem Bascon, Mon Confiado, Archie Alemania, Epy Quizon and Ronnie Lazaro are but a few of the cast who have shown us what it is like to create a movie where actors have honed their acting craft to the fullest. No “pabebe” acting here, if I must say so. When they assumed their characters, they inhaled the air of the era more than a century ago and played the role as if it was their skin.

I no longer saw John Arcilla – I saw a general fit to run amok during war time and punish soldiers with no sense of discipline. He breathed life to a Filipino hero who was usually reduced to just a temperamental general with anger management issues and a stylish mustache. 

I thank the writer-director Jerrold Tarog for introducing me to General Antonio Luna, a three dimensional character who has hopes, dreams, aspirations, frustrations. There was a purpose behind his strict disciplinarian measures. He was quick to anger, but was always resolute and sometimes even funny. For him, there is no grey area between love for country and self-preservation, there is only black and white. He actually reminded me of my own grandfather.

Cinematography: Artfully Rendered

One of the things I look for in a film (apart from the story and storytelling) is its look. With hundreds, if not thousands, of films being released each year, we all look for a certain picture quality. The color, the blend, the framing, the texture, the camera movement and the angles are just some of the things that make for great cinematography. Cinematography sets the overall mood and assists visually in effecting storytelling.

Heneral Luna did not disappoint in this aspect. The movie was artfully rendered. If I really must compare, Heneral Luna somehow reminds me of Rurouni Kenshin Live Action movie. These movies are Hollywood commercial film material! It pains me to have to compare this film to those shown in Hollywood. I mean, does one really need to say these things just to promote it to his fellow Filipinos? Do we belong among those who, like Heneral Luna said, open their legs wide for Americans to enter? Para kang birhen na naniniwala sa pag-ibig ng isang puta! Ouch.

The beautiful cinematography of Heneral Luna is far better than many commercial films in the Philippines today. Period.

Reminiscent Storytelling

Unlike other historical films depicted in a straight line, the story of Heneral Luna was presented differently. The trend with Filipino life story films is to start when the character was young, then grew up, encountered a life-changing moment, faced the peak of his life, and then died. Heneral Luna started with the main character already at the peak of his life – the most brilliant general of a nation fighting to be reborn as a free country. It did not dwell on the mundane acts of childhood and growing up years (albeit this were shown for a bit), for that which I am thankful.

The movie showed mostly the time when the Filipinos were fighting the Americans during and right after Spain sold the Philippines to United States. It won’t be a wartime story without showing war itself, and it did. The exchange of gunshots and canon fire, cowardly soldiers running away, dismembered carcasses littering the field and exploding heads for all its blood and glory – these were not lacking.

Of course, Heneral Luna will not be complete without having to show Antonio Luna’s brother, Juan Luna, who is a famous artist and hero as well. 

*SPOILER ALERT (if you still haven’t seen this after four years!)* If you have a keen eye, you will notice a couple of Juan Luna’s works depicted in the movie, not as paintings but as tableau. Look for The Parisian Life during Antonio Luna’s life story flashback (care of his mother) and Spolarium after Heneral Luna and his aide were killed. The Spoliarium’s tableau is hard to miss.

We Are Joven

I absolutely love Heneral Luna. And I will watch it again when shown in theaters near me. If and when it is officially released in DVD, I will definitely buy an original copy. I feel like it is my responsibility to show a film like this to my family and future kids.

Amidst the war, the General was shown as being interviewed by a certain joven – which literally translates to youth or the young generation. 

But this joven is merely a depiction of us – the Filipinos of today. Antonio Luna was speaking to us, telling us of the nation that we need to build, the values we need to take to heart, the principles we need to keep in mind and the challenges we will have to face head-on.

Heneral Luna embodies our soul as Filipinos. It slapped us with the truth that we are a nation whose freedom is not absolute; whose sense of nationalism is hollow and naught but ash; whose sense of self-worth is defined by connections and money. It hurts but it is the truth. The moment that we realize this, the minute we accept it, that is when we can truly start embracing our country as it needs to be loved.

Heneral Luna is a film that shakes the very core of our perceived nationalism and forces us to face our deepest, darkest enemy — ourselves.

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