Sunday, December 28, 2014

MMFF 2014: Review of BONIFACIO: ANG UNANG PANGULO: Igniting Patriotism in the Young

December 28, 2014

A couple of years ago also at the Metro Manila Film Festival, there was a film entitled "El Presidente" which tackled the history of the Philippine Revolution based from the memoirs of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo (MY REVIEW). This year in the same festival comes another film that will show us the other side of this contentious chapter in Philippine history -- the side of Gat. Andres Bonifacio. 

"Bonifacio" starts with a graphic scene showing the execution of the priests Gomez, Zamora and Burgos (Isko Moreno) by garotte. From there the story would shuttle back and forth from present day to past. Historical scenes were shown as students (Daniel Padilla and Jasmine Curtis-Smith) learn more details about the Revolution from an elderly museum curator (Eddie Garcia). We see the essential events as we have learned them from our history textbooks. 

Bonifacio (Robin Padilla) met Rizal (Jericho Rosales) when La Liga Filipina was formed. Bonifacio established the Katipunan when the La Liga was discovered and Rizal arrested. Bonifacio courted and married Gregoria de Jesus (Vina Morales). A staff member of the Diario de Manila, Teodoro Patino, spilled the beans about the Katipunan to his sister, who convinced him to tell the gobernadorcillo. Bonifacio led the ripping of the cedulas at the house of Tandang Sora. 

Bonifacio led the first successful attack of a Spanish garrison. This part showed close-up intense fencing matches which were very well-choreographed, executed and shot.  Bonifacio gets shamed at the Tejeros Convention. That election scene was really a highly dramatic scene of politics that was shot beautifully with an excellent ensemble of character actors. I felt these two segments were the best scenes in the whole film. 

Political intrigues eventually led to Bonifacio's arrest and inglorious death at the hands of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo's men. The story telling in this part about Bonifacio's controversial last days felt rushed. I was expecting more inside stories and revelations than what we already knew from our history textbooks.

Everything was neatly covered in an hour and 40 minutes, a running time just right for the young audiences it targets. Within that time it was even able to include side stories about the marriage proposal to Bonifacio's sister Nonay (Isabel Oli) and the legend of Bernardo Carpio done in animated format and narrated by a very well-modulated Lou Veloso. The framing device of modern-day scenes with students just further defined for whom this film was really meant. It was also there to explain and reiterate why Bonifacio should be recognized as our first President.

Try as he may, Robin Padilla has too iconic a look and swagger to become totally believable as Andres Bonifacio. What acting tics he successfully avoided in last year in his award-winning "10,000 Hours" all came back in this one. He was delivering his lines in a consciously "heroic" way, like his whole script was a declamation piece. He was walking, running and even sitting in that same "heroic" way. It was not bad acting per se, but his style seemed a bit too unnaturally theatrical for the big screen. 

Vina Morales did better as Oryang. Her scenes towards the end when Andres was in prison were done just right, no over-acting. That scene when she sought Aguinaldo's help in vain was heart-wrenching. Too bad they did not show more of her during the Revolution itself. Daniel Padilla has a very limited role, which he played mostly with an unsmiling serious face and demeanor. 

Unfortunately, for more mature viewers who are looking to see more Bonifacio stories they do not yet fully know yet, they may be sorely disappointed. "El Presidente" was bolder in that aspect. Even if that film was clearly biased to favor Aguinaldo, at least it dared to show parts of history beyond what we learn in school. I felt "Bonifacio" played it too safe. In its effort to be accessible and engaging to younger viewers, it missed a chance to show us more lesser-known details about Bonifacio's life, and especially his death. 

Overall, "Bonifacio" is a well-presented, albeit abridged, tableau of events we already know well about the Philippine Revolution by director Enzo Williams. The production design by Roy Lachica were very meticulous to be appropriate for that time in history. The cinematography by Carlo Mendoza is lush with vivid colors and dramatic camera angles and lighting. The images were complemented by a sweeping musical score by Von de Guzman. This moving visual overview should jump start interest in history in the younger generation of Filipinos and ignite their patriotic fervor. 7/10.