Fallible but still a hero
Emilio Aguinaldo plays but a peripheral role, physically, in both “Heneral Luna” and “Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral.” Portrayed by Mon Confiado in both films, Aguinaldo is a shadowy presence, saying little and influencing events mainly through an imposing aura of authority and benign neglect.
He will feature once more in the last of a trilogy of films about the Republic’s early years, but this last movie promises a more substantial role for “El Presidente.” The movie, after all, is about Manuel Luis Quezon, who ultimately defeated Aguinaldo in the race for president of the Philippine Commonwealth.
I don’t know what the film producers or director Jerrold Tarog have against Aguinaldo. He has been described as either the villain in the tragic story of the Philippine Revolution against Spain and the United States, or the underrated and misunderstood figure who brought Filipinos to the brink of independence. But Aguinaldo certainly deserves a movie of his own, despite (or because of) an adoring earlier movie that tried to burnish his reputation but ended up boring audiences because it persisted in treating his long life as a flawed documentary.
As for Gregorio del Pilar, the “boy general” of “Goyo” who is taunted throughout the movie as the slavish disciple of Aguinaldo, history lessons have confined him to the myth of a ladies’ man who, astride a white horse, died an heroic death defending Tirad Pass. In the film, cowritten by Tarog and Rody Vera, Goyo is portrayed as a mess of contradictions: haunted by premonitions of an early death and yet staunchly loyal to his commander, to the extent of ruthlessly hunting down officers whose only “crime” is loyalty to the late Heneral Luna and refusal to kowtow to Aguinaldo.
Complicating matters is Goyo’s wandering eye, attracting and falling for the daughters of the finest families (including Aguinaldo’s younger sister and a pair of sisters, daughters of a wealthy backer) but unable to fully commit or even express his affection.
On second thought, this may largely be due to the acting of the lead. Paulo Avelino does bear an uncanny resemblance to the original Goyo but his acting ability has been derided by a critic as a “one-note, unidirectional volley.” In his hands, the “boy general” is inscrutable, almost expressionless. Though he portrays a romantic hero, Avelino exudes a largely self-conscious attitude, in many instances “posing” as Goyo rather than “being” him.
Surprisingly turning in a more powerful and yet still nuanced performance is Carlo Aquino, now coming into his own as a rom-com star, who plays Col. Vicente Enriquez, Goyo’s loyal adjutant and friend. Arron Villaflor is Joven Hernando, who plays with verve and naivete a fictitious character who, in both “Luna” and “Goyo,” is an observer and chronicler. He stands in for all Filipinos of this generation (“joven” is Spanish for “youth”) who must be the ultimate judge of Goyo and all other figures who fought for our freedom.
Epy Quizon as Apolinario Mabini (I hope readers by now know why he is seated throughout the movie) is largely preceded by his character’s reputation. But he lends a touch of vulnerability and pent-up frustration to the “Sublime Paralytic,” another historical figure shrouded by myth.
One obvious thing about “Goyo” is how much more expansive it is than “Heneral Luna,” perhaps because the success of the first movie gave its producers greater leeway to stage elaborate battles and pay greater attention to production design, which is delectable.
Especially precious is how Tirad Pass itself is depicted on-screen, the vista of rolling green hills and mountains looming gray and mysterious in the far distance standing in for the land for which men like Del Pilar, Aguinaldo, Luna, even Andres Bonifacio and Jose Rizal, risked their lives and paid the ultimate sacrifice.
“Goyo” may have taken a more cynical approach to the study of our heroes than the usual hagiography. But in cutting down to human scale mythic revolutionaries like Del Pilar, the filmmakers have also made them more human and thus approachable, fallible and flawed. But heroes nonetheless.
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