Friday, November 29, 2013

Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio (Mario O'Hara, Cinemalaya 2010)

Among the films featured at the 6th Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, this historical film is one of the most important. A faithful retelling of one of our history’s sourest incidents, in which a hero orders the death of another hero, the film is a lemon juice distilled painfully on Filipinos’ open, gaping wound.

As the film credits roll on, excerpts of various komedya plays are presented. We then see Andres Bonifacio (Alfred Vargas) playing a prince searching for the Ibong Adarna, an elusive bird with healing powers. Among the audience member is his lover, Gregoria de Jesus (Danielle Castaño). The next few scenes show the depth of the couple's love for one another. A bawling Gregoria is briefly detained after the arrest of her husband, Andres Bonifacio.

The trial of Bonifacio is dragging in most parts. The repeated questioning of the prisoners takes its toll on viewers' patience. Director O'Hara should have shortened the segment by showing successively similar responses to a single question. Limited budget obviously played a role in his inability to reconstruct the events narrated by the witnesses. The theatrical elements of the trial are a perfect fit for the moro-moro proceedings. At the start of the trial, the inept lawyer tasked to defend Bonifacio is already asking for forgiveness for his client's wrongdoings.

Angelina Kanapi steals the film with her portrayal of the Ibong Adarna and narrator. Instead of lulling the viewers to sleep, she is the one that energizes the whole film with her strong screen presence. Donning a semi-kalbo haircut and made up in white make-up, she eerily recalls Death in Ingmar Bergman's Seventh Seal. When she wears a red and yellow dress and performs a dance, I can't help but see it as a dance of death by Spain. The colonizing country can then be seen as the one responsible for Andres Bonifacio's death.

I love the music score for this film. The hymn Marangal na Dalit ng Katagalugan was played in the background during the execution of Bonifacio. The lyrics refer to the fight against the Spaniards. Again, the film seems to suggest that Spain was mainly responsible for the death of Bonifacio. The lovely kundiman Jocelynang Baliwag was given prominence in the early part of the film. It was the song sung by Gregoria and the captured soldiers of the Magdiwang faction. In the guise of a courtship song, the lyrics pertain to love for the motherland. Another song that serves as an outlet for nationalism is the song Sa Dalampasigan. It pays tribute to martyrs who served as inspiration of the Philippine Revolution.

It’s always a pleasure seeing O’Hara conjure wildly creative films like Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio. Marvel at how he showed the horrors, the bombings, and the killings during the revolution using minimal money. Heck, save for the interminable trial scenes, I was mesmerized with the film’s inventiveness and Filipino-ness. The band playing komedya music; poem readings; the folk dance pandanggo sa ilaw; all these things, and more, magically transported me to the late 19th century Philippines. O’Hara’s film reminds me of Raya Martin’s A Short Film About Indio Nacional. The latter is similarly structured in framing the revolution within the popular mediums of entertainment in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Even though Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio failed to received an award from the five-man jury at Cinemalaya 2010, it is a must-see film for Filipinos. It may spur them, as I did, to learn more about our heroes and history. If you’d enjoyed the film, then you’ll probably relish O’Hara’s offbeat masterpiece Sisa. A film that can only come from the wonderful imaginings of the veteran director, the movie suggests Sisa is the voluptuous morena lover of Jose Rizal.

Original online posting in July 2010

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