HENERAL LUNA is a War Film Unabashed in its Solemnity and Comedy
When the Spanish-American war breaks out in 1898, the Filipino military grapple internally on sovereignty and what they should do when two countries play tug-of-war over the Philippines. General Luna leads the camp that resists colonisation – but, hot-tempered and crude, his unconventional ways do not sit well with the rest of the cabinet.
Directors: Jerrold Tarog
Cast: Jon Arcilla, Mon Confiado, Aaron Villaflor, Joem Bascon
Runtime: 118 minutes
For a movie about war, Heneral Luna (2015) shows less about war and more about the internal arguments that happen when powerful figures of society discuss their next move. Which is, arguably, a rather exact representation of war itself, where major destruction happens because of the decisions made by a few.
It is also through the many scenes of cabinet meetings where General Luna, the protagonist of this biopic, stands out clearly with his unpopular opinions and even less likeable mannerisms. With his loud voice, unwavering determination, and a penchant for making threats, he is unafraid to make enemies and will not let anything or anyone stand in his way.
General Luna is really… unlikeable. And the film doesn’t attempt to disguise the fact that his rough ways can rub people the wrong way. Jon Arcilla fully encapsulates the stubborn and outrageous ways of the general, having us fluctuate between laughing at his antics or shaking our heads in exasperation. He does not hold back on insults and spares no effort to make sure that he gets things done his way. An opponent even shouts in his face once, “You live up to your name. Luna… Lunatic!”
But we see throughout the movie that General Luna’s projected outcomes – amidst all his accusations of detractors that they are all traitors – are usually always right. Through his rash actions and resolute beliefs that one should fight for the right to rule, General Luna never fails to prove himself as an admirable commander and a stalwart patriot. Arcilla’s dignified performance ensures that the character does not fall into a flat comical portrayal to be ridiculed.
Apart from all the warfare, Heneral Luna also includes scenes that humanise this larger-than-life figure: he is a romantic when with his lover, a man with poetic words (calling back to the historical figure’s education in literature), and a filial son to his mother. While there are some inconsistencies in the characterisation of General Luna, it is his eccentricities and undying loyalty for his state and his people that have us ultimately rooting for him.
Leaving us both amused and frustrated at the general’s stubbornness, Heneral Luna is also undeniably illuminating in the ride it takes us through. The set-up and costumes show meticulous effort put into the film to effectively immerse all kinds of viewers, whether you are historically aware or not. From detailed costumes revealing the different factions within the Philippines army to attap houses and bamboo chairs, the film is dedicated to representing the 19th century Philippines and its environment fully.
While mostly eventful, certain parts of the film can come across as unnecessarily long-winded in its purpose. At times, scenes about the political committee can appear dragged-out with petty arguments and the repetitive outbursts of General Luna clearly seek to drill the point that yes, he is quite an odd fellow.
And as someone with no prior knowledge to this historical event, I admit that I had to pause the film a few times in order to look up the many characters that were briefly named and the different events that give context to Heneral Luna. But with all the complexities of war and politics at hand, Heneral Luna manages to produce a plot that is simple enough to pick up without reducing the issue into a black-and-white, hero-versus-others portrayal. And even if you aren’t one to disrupt the full movie experience to find out about the Mock Battle of Manila, the film’s focus on General Luna’s unconventional but respectable leadership still comes through.
Pacing issues aside, Heneral Luna provides an intimate picture of an important aspect of the fight for independence in the Philippines’ history. Touching upon universal tropes of loyalty, patriotism, love, and even the petty fights of important men in times of hardship, the film builds camaraderie with a mainstream audience while staying rooted in its local flavour.
Heneral Luna is available for viewing on Netflix. Take a look at the trailer: