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Mediations on the Question of Surface: The Young Critics Circle Film Desk Discusses “Heneral Luna”

27 Sep

Over the long weekend, the Film Desk of the Young Critics Circle held a virtual convention to discuss Jerrold Tarog’s “Heneral Luna,” pursue the critique initiated by our member Jaime Oscar Salazar, and address certain discourses in the public sphere which deliberately misconstrue the intervention of the critic whenever texts of popular importance are subjected to rigorous analysis. The reception of cinema must always be apprehended through an understanding of mass media auras seeking to treat publics as unmediated and install the populism derived from this multitude as democratic. When the delirious spell involves a figure imbricated in a colonial past overdetermining our historical consciousness of the collective in the present, that is where even the best of us misrecognize the encounter with predicament.

Buhat noong Biyernes, nagsulatan ang mga kasapi ng Film Desk ng Young Critics Circle upang talakayin ang “Heneral Luna” ni Jerrold Tarog, ituloy ang kritikang pinasimunuan ng aming kaligang si Jaime Oscar Salazar, at tugunan ang ilang diskurso sa social media na pilit na hindi inuunawa ang tungkulin ng kritiko sa tuwing nasisipat ng matalisik niyang pagsusuri ang mga textong lubhang mahalaga para sa nakararami na lubos namang nakakanti ng suri. Kailangang mapanghawakan ang pagtanggap sa sine nang isinasa-alang-alang ang isang pagkakaunawa sa gayuma ng kalakhang midya na ituring ang madla bilang kalipunang walang pasya’t hindi nakikipagtuos at itanghal ang populismong halaw mula sa pulutong na nabanggit bilang atas ng bayan. Kapag kasangkot sa nakalululang salamangkang ito ang isang katauhang nakalubog sa isang nagdaang mapanakop na sinasapol pa rin ang ating malay pangkasaysayan hinggil sa kolektibo sa kasalukuyan, kadalasan ay inaakalang natapos na ang suliranin, kahit ng pinakamakatwiran. JPJ

Pictorial source: manilastandardtoday.com.

Pictorial source: manilastandardtoday.com.

Aristotle Atienza:

Gusto kong batiin ang kasama nating si Jay Salazar sa isa na namang matalim na kritika.

Hindi ko rin nagustuhan ang pelikula.

May nag-comment na sa blog natin at tulad ng dati, parang pareho nga lang…. Sa tingin ko, sarado na ang isip ng ilan sa engagement na ginagawa ng YCC, pero hindi pa ang iba, na kung hindi man nag-aabang ay naghahanap ng gabay kung paano nga ba maaaring sangkutin ang pelikula. Sa madaling salita, mapanganib kung ang gabay na makikita nila ay matatagpuan sa iba… haha. Kung kaya sa tingin ko may pangangailangan para sa ganitong pakikisangkot. Limitado lamang ang nababasa ko online pero sa iilang nababasa ko, lagi’t laging hinahati ang puna sa anyo (form) at nilalaman (content). Pansinin din ang sagot ni Jerry Gracio sa kritika ni Jay.

Flaudette May Datuin:

Salamat sa pag-alok ninyo sa aking sumama sa balitaktakan. Mukhang nararahuyo ang marami sa “Hollywood sleekness” ng pelikula, sa madaling salita—sa anyo. Alam nating lahat na ang anyo ay hindi hiwalay sa nilalaman, kaya sa tingin ko magandang mabigyan ng gabay ang mga manunuod sa aspektong ito. Umpisahan ko sa isang koment sa sinulat ni Jay sa blog—isa naman daw kasing biopic ang pelikula kaya huwag asahang pumokus ito sa malalaking “content” tulad ng imperyalismo, nasyunalismo, atbp. Talaga naman daw kasing pokus ito sa “self” ni Luna, kasama na ang mga kahinaan at kalakasan niya.

Umpisahan nating i-unpack: Ano ba ang biopic? At anong klaseng biopic ang nakasanayan na natin—ang Hollywood biopic? Kaugnay nito, ano ba ang inaasahan natin sa biopic?

Ano ba ang “bayani” at “kabayanihan?” At ano ang representasyon nito sa ating mga sining? Halimbawa, neoklasisismo ni Guillermo Tolentino kay Andres Bonifacio hanggang sa a la Marvel superhero na tatak ni Heneral Antonio Luna buhat kay Jerrold Tarog.

Kailangan din sigurong tilarin ang “unevenness” na binanggit ni Jay, at ang “smallness” ng mundo sa maraming mga halimbawa.

Alam natin na si Luna ay ilustrado, at pangitain naman ito sa flashback sequence ng childhood residence niya na bahay-na-bato. Ngunit naka-confine sa interyor ang eksena at hindi naikabit sa labas ng dwelling—ang pagyaman ng ganitong class dahil sa pagbukas ng Suez Canal. Sabagay, naka-frame ang exposition sa nostalgia ng ina, ang lunan ng tradisyon at pagpapanatili ng kaayusan. Naka-angkla sa emosyon ang “reminiscence.” Wala namang masama rito, pero dahil sa rangya ng damit, ng hapag- kainan at dekorasyon, hindi maiangat ang diskasyon.

Pictorial source: facebook.com.

Pictorial source: facebook.com.

Ang social class na ito ay “seed” ng oligarkiya na ngayon ay ang ating political dynasty. Sinikap ni Marcos na tibagin ang oligarkiya, ngunit pati siya ay naging bagong oligarkiya. Bawal bang isalin iyon sa cinematic language, ayon sa frame ng biopic?

Tayo ang may kasalanan kung bakit tayo ay natalo, magpasahanggang ngayon. Delikado ‘yan, kasi si Marcos gano’n din ang ginawa—“massive reengineering on the wings of cultural regeneration.” May “dictatorial tendency” ang “testosterone-driven nationalism” ni Luna. Kuwidaw. Hindi rin ba kaya ng biopic na ikarga ang puntong ito, lalo na sa kasalukuyan, kung kailan inaalala natin ang Martial Law?

Fluffy ang content, kulang sa research, kulang sa analysis—parang sirang plaka na tayo; ganyan din ang obserbasyon natin sa ilang nagdaang historical films, tulad ng “Jose Rizal” ni Marilou Diaz Abaya, “Rizal sa Dapitan” ni Tikoy Aguiluz, maging ang “Bayani” at “Sakay” ni Raymond Red. Kung fluffy ang content, fluffy rin ang form. Kailangan atakihin ang form kung gayon—mag-umpisa sa mga elemento ng sine kung kailangan….

Pero ang problema ko, paano iaangat ang diskasyon kung basic ang problema. Expert kay AlDub, pero ni hindi alam kung bakit sa buong pelikula, bakit daw nakaupo lamang si Mabini?

Haaaay. At least observant si Ate….

J. Pilapil Jacobo:

Mabalos, May, sa iyong kritika.

Tutugon ako sa tanong mo hinggil sa “generic” na oryentasyon ng texto, ang “biopic.” Sa kasong ito, higit na nagkakaroon ang suliranin ang “genre” dahil sinasapol din ang “historical film,” kung kaya hindi yata maaaring tingnan ang buhay na isinasapelikula na tiwalag sa daloy ng panahon at sa pagsipat sa daloy na ito na tinataguriang makasaysayan. Sabay nito, kung “biopic” nga lamang, kailangan pa ring maapuhap ang hilatsa ng pangkalatang tiyempo na humuhubog doon sa buhay na ibinibida; kung ang panahon naman ang nakausli sa salaysay, nararapat ding itampok ang sinasabing buhay na kaugnay ng daloy o o katambal ng balaho. Dayalektikal, may pagtatalad, na nagaganap, sa pagitan ng imahen na umaangat mula sa film at ang labas na lumulubog sa akala nati’y babaw nito. Hindi lamang isang projeksiyon mula sa kung anong mahiwagang makina ang pelikula. Bilang isang projeksiyon, dala-dala nito ang isang bukod-tanging pagtingin sa buhay-sa-loob-ng-kasaysayan. Depende sa kaanyuan ng kanyang tingin, doon natin mamamalas kung malawak nga ito o makitid. Kaya lang, “bukod” kaya, at “natatangi” ang matang tumititig o tumitingala sa tampok na katauhan, si “Heneral Luna”? O inuulit lamang nito ang nakasanayan na hinggil sa gampanin niya sa himagsikan? Ano naman kung pag-uulit lamang? Puwede na ba ito? Kung namamangha tayo sa kaibhan, sa pagka-bukod-tangi ng nag-uulit lang, bakit kaya? Ano ang mayroon at wala sa mata, sa malay, ng tanaw na gayon? At bakit tila lubos ang pagkayamot kung nakaririnig ng taliwas na pagtanggap sa textong tinatabas, o inaakalang tabas na tabas, bilang makabuluhan? Iyon na muna, marahil….

Pictorial source: facebook.com.

Pictorial source: facebook.com.

Jaime Oscar Salazar:

Maraming salamat, Aris, para sa pagsisimulang ito. Susubaybayan ko na lang muna ang ‎talakayan, dahil nakapagbigay na ako ng aking pahayag.

Maaaring makatulong sa usapan, lalo na’t tinukoy na ni Ma’am May ang anyo, ang panayam na ito ni Jerrold Tarog.

Malinaw niyang binanggit dito na Marvel nga ang kanyang benchmark para sa Luna at sa ibang bahagi ng trilogy, at mahihinuha sa kanyang ibang mga tugon ang kanyang naging lapit sa paghulma ng pelikula.

Flaudette May Datuin:

Di nga ba’t Hello, Hollywood na, Jay? Aba, patulak na ang Heneral at magkikita na sila ni Oscar?

J. Pilapil Jacobo:

O, ayan, ang auteur na ang nagsalita.

Ano naman ang asiwa kung idinidiin mo lamang bilang kritiko ang sinabi niya at sinusuri ito bilang sintomas ng isang problema? Bakit ibinubunton sa iyo ang sisi na dapat ibato sa ibinubukod-tangi?

Kung Marvel nga ang “benchmark,” at kung negatibo ito sa simula, at ang pagbanggit ng kritiko rito, bilang negatibo rin, sa ikalawang sandali, ang gawain ng iba, sana, ay i-engage ka at ang auteur, ayon sa mga termino ng talakayan na inilatag ng huli, na binabanat (extend) mo lamang naman mula sa inaakalang pambabanat (attack)?

Mainam na pag-isipan, hindi ba?

Patrick D. Flores:

Thanks, May, for the sharp insight.

I am also puzzled, in fact, baffled, why there is so much admiration for the surface of Heneral Luna. I won’t call it form, because form assumes a high level of mediation. This one is just surface, plastic surface and it’s pretty generic and in some parts clumsy. Also, in light of the achievements of the films of Celso Ad Castillo and Peque Gallaga, this one pales, quite inferior compared with the plastic density and scope of Castillo’s and Gallaga’s efforts. The rest of the so-called technical details are in the same vein uninteresting, derivative of the Hollywood look, and because many times removed from the center to which it pretends, ultimately provincial: the aesthetic of the outpost, not even the trenches.

I agree with May on the point of the genre of the biopic and the understanding of the “bio” and the “picture,” as well as the aspiration to supposedly “humanize” the “hero” who is the stuff of this “bio.” This is the extensity of the “picture.” Anything smaller is, well, for smaller minds. There is so much to say about this. But I will start with the persona that portrays Antonio Luna. I think the actor is key in this predicament. He who bulks out and practically beggars the screen and the time of the film; he who turns a character into a caricature, staggering into the scene like some slab of a substance. Quite insufferable in its opacity.

More later.

Pictorial source: cnnphilippines.com.

Pictorial source: cnnphilippines.com.

J. Pilapil Jacobo:

Thanks, Pat, for raising the significance of a film historical consciousness, which requires comparative and contrapuntal thinking. It seems to me that with “Heneral Luna,” the history of the historical film has been obliterated, as far as most of current punditry is concerned. Whatever happened to the contributions, productive or otherwise, of Eddie Romero, Raymond Red, Jose Mari Avellana, even Marilou Diaz-Abaya? It’s as if time had stood still in the interim, and the cinematic critique of historical representation had never run its course, until this tremulous text, “Heneral Luna”? What is at work, or what is not at work, in this wonderment, and in the offense to correctives to this reverie of contemporary Philippine cinema?

I also agree with you on the predicament of character/caricature, as rehearsed by John Arcilla. Character is about distinction. Caricature happens when the distinction is exaggerated, perhaps because the distinction was not marked out at all, or worse, misrecognized. A spectator’s rehearsal of the misrecognition persuades us to problematize, and even surmise, such practices of cinematic perception as missing the point of mediation. Hindi nasundan ang katauhan, hindi naipaloob, kaya puro palabas na lang. Kung basta na lamang tatanggapin ang lantad na lantad, naisaloob kaya ang panunuod? Nakapanuod nga kaya? O nakinuod lamang? Inakala ang panunuod bilang iyon na, hanggan doon lang, kaya’t maniniwalang nakapagsipat na nang lubos. At nabubugnot kapag napagsasabihan na hindi yata sumapat ang pakikihamok sa textong minahal nang wala sa katinuan ang isip.

Jaime Oscar Salazar:

Maaari rin palang makatulong sa talakayan ang study guide na galing mismong web site ng “Heneral Luna.”

J. Pilapil Jacobo:

Mainam at nabanggit mo ang study guide na ito, Jay. Makatutulong sa direksiyon na nais isulong ni Aris—ang tungkol sa pedagogical tools na nararapat ituring bilang sangkap, sa isang banda, at kasangkapan, sa kabila, sa pagbasa/pagtanggap/pagsipat sa pelikulang tulad ng “Heneral Luna.”

Aristotle Atienza:

Maraming salamat mga kapatid sa panahong iniukol para dito. Naipapaalala ang mga deliberasyon na ginagawa ng YCC taun-taon. Napapaisip pang lalo sa mga puntong inilalatag dito. Ipagpatuloy lang po ang “ambagan” ng mga kritika.

Punahin ko lang ang study guide para sa “Heneral Luna.” Nakita ko ang tatlumpung pahinang gabay sa panunuod. Nakakatawa siya noong una, pero mas naging nakakabahala kung hindi man mapanganib, lalo na’t lumalabas sa klase ng pagtalakay at pagtatanong kung paanong nililikha na nito ang “Heneral Luna” bilang mahusay. Sa halip na maging gabay sa kritikal na edukasyon sa pelikula o sa kasaysayan, inililigaw lang lalo ang mambabasa at manunuod, at ipinapatanggap nang maganda nga itong pelikula. Ano nga kaya ang nagaganap na talakayan sa mga klasrum ng mga estudyanteng nanood ng pelikula? Scary.

Pictorial source: facebook.com.

Pictorial source: facebook.com.

Flaudette May Datuin:

Narito ang isa pang essay, this time mula sa Rappler.

Tungkol naman sa comment ni Aris, naisip ko rin na bukod sa isang straight review, maaari rin siguro tayong gumawa ng alternative study guide?

Aristotle Atienza:

Magandang ideya iyan, Ma’am May. Posibleng gawin nating part two iyan nitong online forum. Dagdag pa, puwedeng pag-isipang gawin ng grupo sa mga susunod na panahon ang pagsagawa ng proyekto tungkol sa paggamit ng pelikula sa pagtuturo.

Ma’am May, gusto kong ulitin din ang binuksan ninyong punto tungkol sa representasyon ng bayani at kabayanihan sa sining na maaaring maging tanong din sa kung ano nga ba kapasidad (kabilang na ang limitasyon) ng pelikula na angkinin o umangkin sa bayani, kabayanihan, o kahit maging sa kasaysayan. Káya nga kayâ? At kung kaya, ano ang kakayahan nito? At habang sinusulat ito, bumabalik ako sa “smallness of its mind” na binanggit ni Jay. Uuwi at uuwi talaga sa baka hindi nga kayang panghawakan ito ng mismong direktor. Halimbawa, Sir Patrick, paano ito nagawa nina Gallaga at Castillo? Tulad ng nabanggit ni J., parang hindi man lang umangat itong “Heneral Luna” sa mga nagawa na noon. Sir Patrick, nabanggit mo ang “surface” at hindi “form.” Baka posibleng matalakay pa natin ito rito. Gayundin, baka puwede pang pag-usapan ng pangkat itong paulit-ulit na binabanggit na “pag-humanize” sa bayani. Ito rin sa tingin ko ang hindi pino-problematize sa mga diskusyon.

Patrick D. Flores:

I share your interest in the notion of form, Aris. For me form is an ecology of elements that make up “art” or some kind of “sensible life” like film that presents itself as an event or energy, situation, experience, and not just object or thing. So definitely it’s not just surface, which is an important moment, too, but only a level or a phase in a larger sequence or scheme. Surface may be an entry point, a first impression, a visceral encounter. It may also be, however, disclosed as a technology of enchantment, a look contrived by an industry of spectacle. However way it is intuited, surface is discursive in many ways as it is affective. The task of the critic is to explain or shed light on (magpaliwanag) the consequences or ramifications of the surface. The task is not only to reduce the art to perception, but to subject it to seeing. So what is written in criticism is the activity of seeing, not the perception of surface, or its capture in cognition.

With regard to history and film, I have always been guided by the words of Robert Rosenstone: “How does film construct a historical world? What are the rules, codes, and strategies by which it brings the past to life? What does that historical construction mean to us? Only when such questions have been answered may we wish to consider the following: What does film do to and for the past that the written word cannot? How does the historical world on the screen relate to the world on the page?” These are the more productive questions needed to initiate discussions on “Heneral Luna,” and not whether it’s well-made or it’s polished, with witty camera work or great editing. The latter do not qualify as critical annotations; they are blurbs, and predictable (if not totally asinine) ones at that, to be easily appended to any other product in the market in search of consumers.

Just some quotes from the reviews of Petronilo Daroy on “Daluyong at Habagat” and Emmanuel Reyes on “Virgin Forest.” This is to remind all of us that there is a corpus of critical writing on film that sustains our archive of reading the medium across the years.

For instance, Daroy demonstrates how editing in “Daluyong at Habagat” configures class conflict in history: “Through a series of intercutting, he shows three related series of sequences—Igus rushing headlong to meet his adversary, the bourgeois Ricky Belmonte; Igus’s brother (Rez Cortez) standing at attention in a courtroom listening to a judge render a sentence on him; and the laborers going on a strike in a factory. Through the technique of intercutting, Castillo manages to show these sequences as relating to three forms of violence namely, the organized workers against the exploitative system; institutional violence against the individual; and the type of anarchistic or senseless violence that man within a given context of society perpetuates against his own kind. These final sequences are a testimony to Celso Ad Castillo’s power as an artist and his capacity to make a profound understanding of social issues. Given this equipment, he really does not have to evade historical truth.”

For his part, Reyes dwells on the potential of the motif and locus, the mise-en-scène, of the forest in “Virgin Forest” as an allegorical detail: “The forest, the dominant visual, the formidable barrier that the characters just overcome, fails to create a mystic aura as its concept demands, largely because its perception in the narrative is that of a labyrinth rather than an ethereal force that weaves control over the destiny of each character.”

So there, a springboard for critique. Not just blurbing, hyping, social climbing, and heaping of praise upon praise upon praise.

J. Pilapil Jacobo:

Daroy and Reyes offer paradigmatic schemes in the critical sensing of film. Their modes of thinking have also guided me in my acts of traversal through contemporary cinema in spite of the currency of some other styles of appreciation which dominate the primal scene of reviewing.

Petronilo Daroy points us to a mode of analysis that refuses a split between form and content while remaining open to an understanding of gradient within the unity, and one that is evinced as already there in the diegesis. In this manner, technique is no longer perceived as such, but as “equipment,” an apparatus that sets itself apart from the machine or the contraption, because it is situated within a kind of consciousness that sanctions Castillo to commit himself to the counterpoints which plot out the rhythm of historical truth.

The aporetic employment of “fail” in Emmanuel Reyes’s sentence is also instructive, for its indeterminate sense signifies a tropic shift that the critic perceives with the director as he arranges a contiguity of signs for the allegory he is setting up to propose. The turn to “barrier” from “force” anticipates the alterity of the “forest” as “labyrinth.” Gallaga’s forest is not just a milieu where the erotic rehearses an alibi of torridity, but the very site of the dissimulation that allegory performs as it painstakingly labors to “fail” to complete the reference to the event in question.

Thank you, Patrick, for reminding us that such statements on film have already been written. And that we can always draw strength from these commitments to difficulty.

Flaudette May Datuin:

Kahapon, pina-explain sa akin ng aking anak na si Ligia kung bakit ayaw natin ang “Heneral Luna.” Hindi daw kasi niya ma-gets ang review ni Jay. Hahaha. Nahirapan akong ipaliwanag ang “hagiography” sa lengguwahe ng mga bata (Hay, ang hirap maging ina!). Sinabi ko na lang, para siyang walang kasaysayan—isang superhero na sumulpot na lang at sukat, at parang “backdrop” lamang ang kasaysayan ng imperyalismo, atbp. “Human” kasi may temper; brilliant kasi marunong mag- strategize, at higit sa lahat, may pagmamahal sa bayan. Isa pang problema ang paghihiwalay ng “self” at bayan, kako. Isa pa ay hindi pinoproblema ang “nation” at “nationalism.” Nakuha naman ng bata, pero disappointed siya, kasi daw “You have ruined it for me.” Hahaha. Lubhang masakit ang demystification (parang mga presong kumalawa sa kuweba ni Plato. Nabubulag sa sikat ng araw)!

At the same time, kung “phenomenal” ang effect ng resepsyon ay maaari rin nating itong tingnan bilang sintomas ng “pagkauhaw” ng bata sa “matinong” mga sine. At dahil kulang siya sa kaalaman sa filmography ng mga nakaraang pelikula, at iba pang background. Akala niya “the best” na ang nakita niya. Pinanood nila sa Calamba bilang isang klase (sa Philippine High School for the Arts) ang “Heneral Luna”— unang unang showing…. Wala pang bandwagon….

Palagay ko, ang i-target natin ang mga guro na, malay mo, naghahanap rin ng bagay. Nang sumulpot ang study guide ni Alvin Campomanes, iyon ang nag-fill up sa vacuum. Ibig sabihin, targetin na rin natin ang mga malay at matalas ang isip. Hindi natin kayang targetin ang madla—ang mga nagtatanong kung bakit hindi tumayo si Mabini sa pelikula. Hindi naman tayo mga superhero….

Ang “crisis of reception” ay maari rin nating ihalintulad sa isang hindi matapos na pagluluksa—isang mahabang “wake” at proseso ng “mourning”—sa nasyong naudlot, sa kawalan ng bayani, sa patuloy na betrayal ng ating mga lider na nakita nilang at work sa sine. Tingnan mo na lang ang kasalukuyang circus ng eleksiyon. Ramdan ito ng mga milllenials, sa tingin ko. Kita ko ‘yan sa aking mga estudyante at sa mismong anak ko, at maging sa mga gumawa ng sine. Malalim ang “hugot,” ‘ika nga. ‘Yang “hugot” na yan ang kailangan nating i-adress.

Pictorial source: www.interaksyon.com.

Pictorial source: http://www.interaksyon.com.

J. Pilapil Jacobo:

Gusto ko ‘yang pahayag mo, May, tungkol sa sakit na dulot ng demistipikasyon, sa dalamhating hatid ng pagbasag sa trip ng may di akalaing (misrecognition) nahihirati pala siya sa isang mapanganib na larawan, o sa salaming may natatanging imahen, ngunit tinatanggap iyon bilang totoo, at hindi man lamang kabaligtaran nito. You’ve articulated the pitfalls of ideology, and the trauma that some of us will refuse to acknowledge when we’ve found out our place, the abyss. Hindi naman daw lubusang makakaahon mula sa di akalain, pero may atas ang kritika na itulak tayo palayo sa gayong uri ng kahiratian.

Patrick D. Flores:

May, I think you’re right about the “hugot,” or the process of drawing out something from somewhere, in other words, some kind of context of some condition or sentiment. And this has to be addressed. The film in a way attempts to be “in history” because it carves out space for a historical moment through a historical figure and tries to render it in the best way it could, and presumably in good faith. It also endeavors to be “out of history,” that is, it disrupts some kind of progressive time to intervene in its making by reflection or annotation; the device of the interview and the burning of the flag are symptoms of this disruption because they draw attention to the fiction and the facture of the film, as well as to an alternative formulation. All this is fine. And in both instances, the film is found wanting, owing perhaps to the thinness of the imaginative research of a very thick, intractable material and the inability to probe plastic potential beyond the immediate sensate (basically Hollywood) stimuli. In a way, this testifies to the conceit of the filmmakers, the misplaced temerity to mediate a material too complex for their intellectual preparation. The effort to be out of history is not without its value, but it also proves to be more dangerous because the film is only able to supplement binarist tendencies in Philippine historiography and therefore can only offer polemics on the so-called struggle in the nineteenth century. In this vacuum bereft of dialectical trouble or even just a sensitive explication of tension, the film shapes a partisan mindset and fails to be productively political. In other words, the film merely urges the audience to take sides in a duel between heroism and villainy and does not invite them to a critical conversation on the many aspects of the material that cannot be reduced to partisanship.

I also don’t understand how people could simplistically say that it’s well-made and with confidence at that. What is the basis of this so-called concise comment? It’s actually a meaningless comment if it doesn’t explain what “well-made” entails and the consequences of its supposedly fine making. What if it’s well-made? It’s a good product? That’s it? If the yardstick is Hollywood and the film succeeds to mimic it in the palest of shades, is it good enough? In a post-colonial world, such mimicry is sad and tragic. Tell me: how is it not social climbing? With the Philippine film gatecrashing the party in period costume? And the lover of Heneral Luna a closet social climber?

The other thing of course is the much-abused word: “humanize.” What does it mean to humanize really? What I discern in the film are quirks in character, with Luna portrayed as exceeding his zeal and being intemperate. Does this humanize him? Is this psychosis? Is this “naturaleza?”

My problem with “Heneral Luna” is that it misses the opportunity to provoke, and the noise around it does it in. And what takes over is the hype that lives off the frustrations of a mass audience who may have had to weave through a three-hour traffic jam just to watch the film and to suffer the paralysis of the current government and the fantasies of those who want to be president. This I think is the “hugot” that is exploited; exploited too is the impressionable mind of the student who has to be dragged to the cinema by the teacher to like the film. What a way to teach! And I say this not because critics are indifferent to what people like or respond to with pleasure, but because we are interested in how their desires are formed and how this pleasure plays out.

 
7 Comments

Posted by on 27/09/2015 in Film Review, Philippine Film

 

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7 responses to “Mediations on the Question of Surface: The Young Critics Circle Film Desk Discusses “Heneral Luna”

  1. Liena Bersabe

    27/09/2015 at 7:41 PM

    Matapos kong mapanuod ang Hen.Luna ay maraming tanong na nakintal sa aking isipan ..Naka-babahala dahil maaaring nagulo ang isipan ng mga manunuod lalo’t ng mga mag-aaral dahil sa kanilang napanuod…Hindi nyo lamang binuksan ang isipan ng mga manunuod sa mga ipinakitang isyu gayundin ang mga Guro sa kasalukuyan ay binabatikos ng mga tanong ng kanilang mga mag-aaral na maaaring hindi din nila alam ang sagot..
    Marami kayong iniwan sa mga manunuod ngunit nakakatakot dito ay nag-iwan ito ng karahasan sa isipan nila na maaaring maging resulta ng kaguluhan..

     
  2. Kumo

    30/09/2015 at 6:42 AM

    “And in both instances, the film is found wanting, owing perhaps to the thinness of the imaginative research of a very thick, intractable material and the inability to probe plastic potential beyond the immediate sensate (basically Hollywood) stimuli. In a way, this testifies to the conceit of the filmmakers, the misplaced temerity to mediate a material too complex for their intellectual preparation.”

    Wow. This, in itself, is conceited.

    Anyway, to give the director the benefit of the doubt, Jerrold Tarog might be aware of using Hollywood appeal intentionally, because he alluded it in some of his interviews, that “Heneral Luna” is an entry point to garner an audience (and funding) for a sequel with “deeper” themes. The reality is that expensive period films NEED generous funding from rich people who aren’t even knowledgeable of film theory.

    And about the Marvel thing, I think he used it not to use it as a benchmark for the depth/shallowness/quality of the films, but to simply relay his idea of a trilogy or a shared universe. He did it with his Confessional/Mangatyanan/Sana Dati.

    A film about a relatively unknown historical personality is definitely a hard sell before “Heneral Luna,” especially if the lead is a theater actor whose last notable project is a relatively unknown independent British production (Metro Manila). I’m assuming Paolo Avelino will be cast as Gregorio Del Pilar in the next movie. That in itself will be the mass appeal to rake in money for the producers, while allowing the director to explore and expand (crossed fingers) his treatment of History. Lav Diaz finally tried Piolo and John Lloyd, and I hope that project makes money too without dumbing down Diaz’s artistry.

     
  3. Slow clap

    04/10/2015 at 10:09 PM

    “My problem with “Heneral Luna” is that it misses the opportunity to provoke.”

    Saan planeta ka nang galing at parang sampu lang kayo sa buong Pilipinas ang di na provoke dito sa pag iisip sa problema ng ating bansa?

    This is why I don’t believe reviews by “film critics”. Kung babasahin mo pinag usapan nila, parang walang kuwenta talaga yung Heneral Luna. Halos lahat ng movies na gusto ko, nilait ng mga film”experts”. Matrix, Star wars, Lord of the Rings.etc.. Ay sorry mababaw pala mga movies na to. Ok na sana kung nilait lang ang movie eh. Pero dinamay pa ang audience na nagustuhan ng movie. Mababaw kami? Small minded?

    I didn’t watch El Presidente and the Bonifacio movie because of bad reviews from friends. But this movie was recommended to me. Buti nalang nakinig ako sa kanila at hindi sa mga elitistang critics na ito. What I like about the movie is that it made us think: what has changed in Philippine politics? What parts of the movie are based on historical fact? How will we define patriotism in this modern age?

    Para kayong mga lalake na pumunta sa beauty contest para punahin ang ganda ng swimsuit.

    Slow clap for intellectual crap.

     
    • Zzzzzzz

      12/09/2016 at 12:13 PM

      Ang intindi ko kasi na complaint nila is ganito:

      1. Nanood ‘yung mga tao ng Heneral Luna
      2. Nagustuhan nila ‘yung Heneral Luna
      3. Na-“provoke” ‘yung kanilang “patriotism”.
      4. Then ina-apply nila ‘yung mga nakuha nila sa Heneral Luna sa iba-ibang bagay (including ‘yung mga problema sa Pilipinas).

      That in itself isn’t bad, I get that. Pero ang nangyari kasi, the viewers took the movie hook line and sinker (ika nga) and blindly accepted the movie for what it is. Pero may mga bagay-bagay na kailangang pansinin. May hidden agenda ba ‘yung producers ng pelikula nung pumayag silang gawin iyon? (Tandaan na ang producers ng pelikula ay galing sa mayayamang angkan.) Paano kung may hidden biases o kaya wrong information yung movie na kailangang itama, tatahimik na lang ba tayo at tatanggapin iyon nang buong-buo? ‘Yung ganung provocation ‘yung tinutukoy nila dito.

      Parang ganito lang ‘yan eh: suppose gumawa ng “documentary” ang China at sinabi nilang kanila ang West Philippine Sea noong unang panahon pa, at ninanakaw ng mga mangingisdang Pilipino ang mga isda doon, never mind kung mas malapit sa Pilipinas kaysa sa China ‘yung area kung saan sila nangingisda. O-oo ka na lang ba at tatanggapin nang buong-buo ‘yung pelikula, just because mala-Marvel ‘yung pagkakagawa nun?

       
  4. Elitism

    06/10/2015 at 1:03 AM

    Eilitism. This is what this group is all about. Pwe!

     
  5. Elitism

    06/10/2015 at 1:04 AM

    *elitism

    Sorry for the typo, mga dakilang elites.

     
  6. DannyG

    14/10/2015 at 9:01 AM

    Korek na korek kayo d’yan Slow Clap and Elitism !!!

     

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