‘Heneral Luna’ and Filipino audiences
In my previous commentaries, I demanded much from the Filipino media. I pointed out their potential to either perpetuate or cure the culture of anti-intellectualism in the Philippines. I called on them to ask themselves what role they have played in using our language to express either noble ideas and sentiments or baseness and crassness.
The continuing success of the movie “Heneral Luna”—which is revolutionary in more ways than one—gives me reason to congratulate the media this time. It raises my hopes in what may be the beginning of an upward trend of the media educating and inspiring, without sacrificing their equally important function of entertaining.
For this upward trend to continue, however, even more analysis by the media must ensue. They must identify what made the movie a success, as well as how they can challenge themselves to exceed the standard that has just been set. Since, by virtue of occasionally writing in this newspaper, I have become a media practitioner myself, I asked myself what the success of “Heneral Luna” says about Filipino audiences. Here are what I have come up with:
Filipinos, including those from the upper and upper-middle classes, do want to watch Filipino movies.
I say this from a general survey of comments on the movie on my Facebook news feed. I also say this from observing the enthusiastic crowd the second time I watched the movie.
Indeed, Filipino movies can touch the hearts of Filipino audiences in ways that foreign movies cannot. In “Heneral Luna,” the Filipino landscapes, the details of local color (down to the askal roaming around the battlefield), the mention of familiar places like Caloocan and Novaliches, connected with the viewers. At least, they connected with me.
As moviegoers, however, Filipinos demand respect. They refuse to patronize Filipino movies just for being Filipino. This brings me to my other points.
Filipino audiences crave variety.
While slapstick antics and love triangles can be the subjects of good movies, they are not the only available subjects of movies. The next point is related to this.
Filipino audiences want to be challenged.
On one level, this means that they appreciate being shown that history is interesting. As a history enthusiast, it pleases me to think of how many people who previously found history boring became history lovers because of “Heneral Luna.”
On another level, Filipino audiences appreciate being made to think. They appreciate being confronted with tough questions, and “Heneral Luna” raises many of them.
I am not only referring to the obvious, such as “Bayan o sarili?” and whether it is indeed true that our real enemies are not the Americans or any other foreign power but ourselves. The film raises other issues for debate, such as whether Gen. Antonio Luna’s notion of patriotism is the only valid one, and how Filipinos can be inspired to love their country given that human nature finds it easier to sacrifice oneself for one’s family or friends rather than for an abstract principle like “nation.”
To these questions, the movie does not give easy answers. Frankly, neither do I have easy answers of my own to these questions. But I think that the nation would be just a bit better off if, because of “Heneral Luna,” Filipinos—leaders, decision-makers, voters—are discussing these issues in their dinnertime conversations in addition to, if not instead of, show biz gossip.
Filipino audiences love movies that tell good stories and show a lot of humanity.
“Heneral Luna” is not the first Filipino movie based on historical events. But it is the first Filipino historical movie I have seen (perhaps there are others of which I am not aware) that avoids the pitfall of other similar films—that of sacrificing storytelling techniques to the point that the resulting product ends up more like a documentary or a homily. While “Heneral Luna” is admittedly didactic, it tells a good story: that of an admirable but flawed person pursuing a worthy goal amidst obstacles.
Ultimately, people do not watch movies for spectacular visuals or for crowd-drawing names in the cast. People watch movies for good stories. While it is possible to make a bad movie out of a good story, it is impossible to make a good movie out of a bad story. People want protagonists to root for, experiences that enrich and place viewers face-to-face with their own humanity.
“Heneral Luna” reminds audiences that history is, ultimately, a story about humanity, a story full of emotion and action, of successes and failures, of lessons learned and strong connections between the characters and the audiences. Many more stories similar to it remain to be told, and Filipino audiences are waiting for someone to tell them.
I do not intend to imply that “Heneral Luna” is beyond constructive criticism. However,others have already pointed out elsewhere the ways in which the movie could be improved. I am sure that the filmmakers are taking notes, not content to rest on their laurels.
For now, it suffices for me to thank the makers of “Heneral Luna” for showing Filipino audiences the respect they deserve, for not underestimating the capacity of Filipino audiences to appreciate a challenging, engaging, and well-done movie.
But just the same, I do not want to put the Filipino media off the hook yet. Now that it has been shown that a different, intelligent movie based on Filipino history can, indeed, draw Filipino audiences, I expect the media to pick up the cue and keep up the trend.
Cristina A. Montes graduated from the Master en Derecho de la Globalizacion e Integracion Social program of the Universidad de Navarra in Spain. She also holds bachelor’s degrees in laws and in humanities (specializing in philosophy) from the University of the Philippines and the University of Asia and the Pacific, respectively.