Fool on a hill

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By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento

Movie Review
Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral
Directed by Jerrold Tarog
PG-13

TOUTED AS THE costliest local movie production to date, Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral is certainly easy on the eyes. The charming Dagupan sarsuela sequence is a 19th Letras y Figuras by the master Damian Domingo come to life. The dungeon scene of the torture of the late Gen. Luna’s aide Maj. Manuel Bernal (Art Acuna) is starkly and disturbingly lit, like a Goya etching from Los Caprichos, with the defiant prisoner, a grotesque creature from hell who refuses to die, cackling at and mocking his captors.

In the movie, Bernal is beaten up by minions, though according to the testimony of his young brother Angel, it was the boy general, Gregorio del Pilar (Paulo Avelino) himself, with his older brother Julian (Rafael Siguion-Reyna), who personally stripped, tortured, and “flogged with barbarous fury” the major, who was kept alive for a week before he was mercifully killed. In the movie, Manuel has the jubilant last word.

Kuya Julian is Goyo’s personal life coach, repeatedly exhorting him to visualize himself as a soaring eagle whenever he falters. It’s such a New Age-y attempt to make a textbook hero a more nuanced and multi-faceted character, even vulnerable. He may suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) but his babe-o-meter works just fine. When Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo’s (Mon Confiado) sister Felicidad (Empress Schuck), one of Goyo’s cast-off sweethearts, enters his bedroom in the middle of the night, wearing only her nightdress, Del Pilar gets so het up, he must cool down by taking a dip with his best buddies in the Lingayen River. His own guards nearly shoot him when they hear splashing after midnight. The backstory to this historically true incident reveals what kind of man he is: Goyo had forgotten that he himself had stationed sentries by the river. Rattled by his brush with death, he punishes them for doing their job.

Occasionally, Goyo is an elevated rom-com, but with an air of intellectual superiority by virtue of the patina of history. The arch exchange about mangoes between Felicidad and Goyo’s current inamorata, the sulky Remedios (Gwen Zamora), is well-mannered, antique bitchery. Throwing shade was supposedly done with greater refinement in the good old days.

The real Gen. Del Pilar was so proud of being a chick-boy that even in battle, there was an aide tasked with keeping safe a valise stuffed with love letters from his conquests. At a tertulia in the home of Don Mariano Nable Jose (Robert Seña), this leather bag of Goyo’s most valuable possessions is entrusted to the apprentice photographer Joven Hernando (Arron Villaluna), who is unattached to any news organization but hangs around for the next uneventful five months, doing diligent voice-overs of his letters home. The owlish Hernando openly reads Goyo’s personal mail while sitting in the ballroom, amid other tertulia guests. None of Goyo’s military aides observe this. Being oblivious is their usual state, and partially accounts for their being sitting ducks for the US army. It still boils down to command responsibility in the end.

What kind of general wastes five months partying instead of preparing his defense against the American invaders? Or beats a hasty retreat without sufficient provisions, or even a destination in mind? Aguinaldo even drags along his elderly mother (Perla Bautista), his sickly wife and young son, and, of course, his hot sister the camp follower. Another head scratcher was Pres. Aguinaldo handing Mabini (Jeffrey Quizon) a gavel, and promising to make him the chief justice of the Supreme Court. There was no Philippine Supreme Court then—the American occupation commission would establish a court system nearly two years later.

What he lacked in military strategy, Goyo made up for with his wardrobe. For his final battle at Tirad Pass, he put on all his bling: “gold braid, spurs of silver, a newly tailored khaki uniform and three gorgeous golden medallions hanging around his neck,” according to an American journalist who appreciated what a mediagenic figure the boy general was. The Battle of Tirad Pass lasted barely six hours. The Americans lost just two men against nearly everyone on the Filipino side, including Gen. Del Pilar.

Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral, set during the Filipino-American war, is the second installment in film company TBA Studio’s projected period trilogy. It follows Heneral Luna (2012), which tells the story of the Philippines’ brutal and tumultuous transition from Spanish Colonial Rule.

The films are admirable in their ambition and attempt to get more Filipinos interested in our history. However, given the overwhelmingly youthful demographic of the Filipino movie-going public, having study guides to go with these films in order to stimulate discussion and critical thinking would be a worthy endeavor. For example, much of the appeal in the sleeper hit Heneral Luna was in the title character’s thrillingly foul-mouthed brashness. We are the people of SIR (Smooth Interpersonal Relationships) after all. How exciting to encounter an action man who got things done. Roiling the surface was the internecine conflict which disunited the Filipinos and resulted in Luna’s assassination. We are still not united in what counts.

Similarly, Goyo is cinematic eye candy, with the mild, sexual frisson of the protagonist being so cute and randy. We are lulled into forgetting that he was also a shallow sexual opportunist and a narcissistic dandy, a metrosexual a century ahead of his time. Many men died (wives turned to widows; children left orphans) because he was such an idiot. National Artist Nick Joaquin was spot on about Gen. Del Pilar: “Because he lost it, Tirad got a hero. But can courage redeem stupidity?”