By Gina Apostol
New York City — Just saw the movie Heneral Luna in a theater in the Bowery area. It ends with a note on salvaging—that ours is a history of salvaging, with Antonio Luna salvaged by the Kawit brigade (just as Bonifacio was salvaged—also by Kawit— really hard not to see Aguinaldo as history’s culprit). So on that reflexive note, the self-reflective question of what we do to ourselves, is climactic.
The untold story, oddly, is that of the empire — the salvaging that America did on the Philippines becomes secondary, is merely background. But I know that is hard to do with Luna’s story, that must end with his assassination.
I wish they had done more on the American acts that destroyed revolution, its political counterespionage as well as brutality (for instance, Quezon, who has a cameo here as a young recruit to Aguinaldo’s army, ultimately was in cahoots with Americans during the early occupation of the country—Americans used the venality of the Filipino upper classes very much to their advantage).
But I appreciated the many details of historical and class analysis — the comic cowardice of the upper class clowns Pedro Paterno and Felipe Buencamino (should have done more with that rich-man buffoon Paterno, who was thrice an ass in Philippine history), the scene of a French-speaking Luna that gives a glimpse of the fascinating complexity of Luna (he was a Parisian intellectual/reformist who suddenly in 1899 becomes a great general pushing for guerrilla warfare), the finale in which ambiguity over who killed Luna gets played out as Buencamino and Aguinaldo exculpate themselves (thus, the lying collaborator class in a sense is the final yet ambiguous antagonist—the issue of the collaborator class, the oligarch, as enemy of the revolution is a lynchpin of the story), and the fine portrayals of women in war.
I did wish the complexities of Luna were unraveled more. He was after all a student of science in Europe who, at a young age, suddenly becomes the brains of revolutionary war. His brother Juan read Marx (Juan Luna mentions reading Karl Marx in a letter to Rizal), and the Luna brothers in general just seem so complex and multiple in their personalities. I wish I had seen more of the intellectual, ideological underpinnings of Luna’s rage.
Still, it is good to watch this movie. I found it interesting even to wonder why in a movie about the Filipino-American war, it is hard for us to focus on the imperial villain—America.
Editor’s Note: Gina Apostol is an award-winning Filipino novelist in New York City.