Saturday, November 30, 2013

Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio (The Trial of Andres Bonifacio, Mario O'Hara, 2010)



(For Bonifacio's 150th birth anniversary, a brilliant no-budget digital film on his trial and ignoble death)

The pasyon of Andres  

There are--and I could be perfectly wrong about this--about ten films made to date about Filipino national hero Jose Rizal, including Marilou Diaz Abaya's oversized, underpowered 150 million peso (US$3.0 million) historical epic. To date there have been--and again I can be wrong--only three films made on Filipino national hero Andres Bonifacio: Teodorico C. Santos' Andres Bonifacio (Ang Supremo) done in 1964, Raymond Red's beautiful, strangely haunting Bayani (1992), and this.

Mario O'Hara's Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio (The Trial of Andres Bonifacio, 2010) takes its inspiration from Carl Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc; it employs the actual trial records as a rough outline (a film treatment, if you like) and fashions out of them an analytical, self-reflexive examination not so much of the truth of what happened as of the meaning of what happened (O'Hara at first glance seems to accept the historical record--always written by the victors, Emilio Aguinaldo's rival Magdalo faction in this case--as accurate).

How do we know O'Hara's intentions? Oh, hints, allegations, interpretations, most of them directly related to us by a narrator/commentator--Mailes Kanapi, bald and in whiteface, functioning like The Common Man in Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons (the original play, not the Fred Zinneman film). She adds footnotes (historical context) and postscripts (what happened afterwards); she highlights the significance of various testimonies, whether they are lying or giving the unvarnished truth. At one point, Kanapi sarcastically wonders if a witness has lost his balls; at another, she tenderly caresses a wounded soldier and praises him for his bravery in the face of suffering.

But Kanapi is the clown in the circus, using thick makeup and flashy gestures to entertain the masses; O'Hara also gives us subtler cues--the opening of many of the testimonies, for example, with the question "Are you aware of the Revolutionary Government?" Some are, some aren't; you wonder at the repetitiveness of the questions, until you realize that this is a government still struggling to establish its identity, still struggling to find out how widespread knowledge of its existence really is, still struggling, above all, to assert its authority. The trial is, among other things, an attempt  to control public perception, to put a spin on matters that may have moved too fast, too far out of control. It is, in effect, an impromptu referendum on the fledgling government--a mini-snap election meant to prove that government's legitimacy.  


Where O'Hara differs from Dreyer, aside from the question of money, is in his overtly theatrical style (Dreyer enjoyed a budget of seven million francs--ultimately ballooning into nine million--while O'Hara had a slightly augmented (thanks to a last-minute save by TV talk show host Boy Abunda) but still tiny budget of 1.8 million pesos (roughly thirty-nine thousand dollars)). 

I don't understand the film's critics, and their complaint about the film's 'theatricality:' what do they mean? Films have been theatrical since the very beginning, from D.W. Griffith's creaky 19th century-style melodramas to Charlie Chaplin's sublime pantomimes. They have often shifted from naturalism to an actual stage, in Michael Powell's The Red Shoes, Laurence Olivier's Henry V, Jean Renoir's The Golden Coach (the Renoir, incidentally, celebrates the superiority of theater's artificiality over life's humdrum realism). They have directly translated stage plays onto the big screen in ways that are both recognizably stagebound and incontestably cinematic: Robert Altman's Secret Honor and Come to the 5 and Dime Jimmy Dean Jimmy Dean; Jonathan Demme's Swimming to Cambodia. There are even great unabashedly 'theatrical' adaptations of opera and ballet: Ingmar Bergman's delightful The Magic Flute, Carroll Ballard's The Nutcracker. Theatricality is a tool, no less valid for drawing from an older, more venerated medium; one should judge a film as to how well it uses the tool, not condemn it for being theatrical per se

So please--no more use of the word 'theatrical' in a derogatory manner when talking about a film; that only shows ignorance. If anything, films can use more theatricality: Mike Nichols' adaptation of Angels in America is faithful enough, but thuddingly literal-minded, complete with overfamiliar actual locations and boring digital effects. A dose of the original production's giddy theatrics (including an angel with wings the size of a private plane actually crashing through a ceiling) could have lifted the production to a higher level.

In O'Hara's case he uses the folk drama form known as the moro-moro, and those familiar with history will know that Bonifacio was at one point a moro-moro actor. Filmmaker/stage actor Dennis Marasigan points out that the term moro-moro colloquially suggests "a predetermined outcome," in that the moro (the Muslim) will always be vanquished by the Christian hero--in other words, O'Hara in his choice of theatrical form reveals his attitude towards the veracity and integrity of the trial (don't bother defending yourself, the verdict has long since been decided). It's a song-and-dance still being practiced today, in the field of public opinion, in the arena of politics (don't bother voting, the winner has long since been decided).

But that doesn't even get to the heart of this bewitching, bothersome, bewildering film; an alternate title could be The Passion of Andres Bonifacio--not just because in its record of his suffering and death there are close parallels to Christ (that cruel ending--which may put Bonifacio's courage in momentary, all-too-human doubt, but does not, ultimately, refute it--only emphasizes this) but because the film, after all is said and done, is a love story. 

Oh yes--while Bonifacio's wife Gregoria de Jesus (Danielle Castano) sings the melancholy song "Jocelynang Baliwag," we have Andres Bonfacio (Alfredo Vargas) and his soon-to-be rival Emilio Aguinaldo (Lancer Raymundo) slicing open their wrists with knives and pressing them together in a blood compact. It's difficult to remember, considering how thoroughly and intensely the two leaders quarreled with each other, that they were once close allies, that Bonifacio himself may have initiated Aguinaldo into the Katipunan (the secret revolutionary society Bonifacio founded to overthrow the Spaniards), that the movement was in all probability Aguinaldo's first true love--as it remained Bonifacio's continuing and (it turns out) final one.

Every detail clicks into place, every moment suddenly makes psychological and dramatic sense when you view the film this way: Bonifacio's seething anger while incarcerated and awaiting trial (to paraphrase William Congreve: hell hath no fury like a lover scorned); Aguinaldo's passionate demands that Bonifacio be spared; Aguinaldo's heartbreakingly wordless acknowledgment that he can only do so much; and much later, Aguinaldo's elegaic fade-out into obscurity and irrelevance (think of Miss Havisham in her bridal gown and rotting wedding cake). It's the film's emotional core, its full-blooded heart, what made every hair on my arms and neck stand while watching the picture. It's why I think the film--along with its historical accuracy, its metaphysical tricks, its cinematic fireworks (done on a shoestring budget), its, yes, theatricality--is great: this is O'Hara's Valentine to a hero long ignored.

Need I say it? Best of the year, of several years. 

8.17.10

29 comments:

Oggs Cruz said...

So that's the love story you are talking about. Andres and Emilio. I've never regarded Emilio an important character in the film. I thought he was there just because thee records throw him there --- a victim of circumstance instead of an actual character of merit or someone I need to feel for and understand.

But you do have a point. I've always wondered (I've only seen the film once, and I, Dodo and hopefully Chard would love to feature this in the Fully Booked screening with O'Hara in attendance) about that blood compact scene in the middle of Gregoria's song. I would probably blame Lance Raymundo's turn as an uneventful Aguinaldo for my lack of notice of the character's role in the love story, but I like your interpretation. It makes the film more painful, more poignant, more approachable in less historical terms.

Noel Vera said...

Ach, no, I believe Lance Raymundo's is the key performance--and there's this shot of him just weeping that's electrifying. It's as if you saw the beginning of the love affair and its bitter demise--the middle part, the obvious part, has been cut out.

And this is something I forgot to throw in: when we see the love scenes between Bonifacio and his wife, we hear a political song on the soundtrack, about the death of Rizal (Bonifacio's other true love). It's as if O'Hara was saying love is a form of politics, and politics a kind of love.

Laurice said...

The scene in the actual moro-moro in which Bonifacio plays one of the princes is from Ibong Adarna. From the scene, the film cuts into the woods where Bonifacio (still as the prince) encounters the old beggar who warns him about the Ibong Adarna, which O'Hara employs in the film in the role of Mailes. Not only is the moro-moro used as a metaphor in this film, it is specifically the lore of the Ibong Adarna.

By the way, O'Hara handpicked all his actors.

Noel Vera said...

Thanks for the info.

Didn't have the time to parse out the meaning of the Adarna fable. Does the bird represent their goal--independence, the power of self-rule? And isn't the requirement to capture the bird constant vigilance, aided by suffering? A kind of object lesson to all of us Filipinos? Am I making sense here?

Noel Vera said...

Not quite Andres and Emillio, I think; more like Andres and Emilio in love with the same woman, a fully independent Ynang Bayan. I'm thinking of a menage a trois like that found in Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dynamite.

Anonymous said...

Best of, what???????!!!!!!

Huh?!!!

Anything O'hara is best of the decade, best of century, best of the best, bestest, bestestestestest!!

Anyone who believes Noel Vera on O'Hara is nuts!

Anonymous said...

Dissection of Noel Vera’s Fanaticism


The pasyon of Andres

>>>>>Should be titled “My Obsession Of O’Hara”

There are--and I could be perfectly wrong about this--about ten films made to date about Filipino national hero Jose Rizal, including Marilou Diaz Abaya's oversized, underpowered 150 million peso (US$3.0 million) historical epic. To date there have been--and again I can be wrong--only two films made on Filipino national hero Andres Bonifacio: Raymond Red's beautiful, strangely haunting Bayani (1992), and this.

>>>>> an intro that say’s nothing much

Anonymous said...

Mario O'Hara's Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio (The Trial of Andres Bonifacio, 2010) takes its inspiration from Carl Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc; it employs the actual trial records as a rough outline (a film treatment, if you like) and fashions out of them an analytical, self-reflexive examination of not so much the truth of what happened (O'Hara seems to accept what has been written down as being truthful--without, however, forgetting the fact that this is an account written by the winners of the controversy) as of the meaning of what happened.

>>>>>> this is actually the best Vera has to say about Paglilitis. The rest is fart.

Anonymous said...

The trial records are worth checking out by the way--not just to compare the actual accounts with the finished film, but (for those who haven't the slightest idea what I'm talking about) to read the excellent short note at the bottom of the web page explaining the trial's historical background.

>>>>> up to this point, the review is still sane.

Anonymous said...

How do we know O'Hara's intentions? Oh, hints, allegations, interpretations, most of them directly related to us by a narrator/commentator--Mailes Kanapi, bald and in whiteface, functioning like The Common Man in Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons (the original play, not the Fred Zinneman film). She adds footnotes (historical context) and postscripts (what happened afterwards); she highlights the significance of various testimonies, whether they are lying or giving the unvarnished truth. At one point, Kanapi sarcastically wonders if a witness has lost his balls; at another, she tenderly caresses a wounded soldier and praises him for his brave suffering.

>>>>>> and the fanaticism starts to accumulate

Anonymous said...

But Kanapi is the clown in the circus, using thick makeup and flashy gestures to entertain the masses; O'Hara also gives us subtler cues--the opening of many of the testimonies, for example, with the question "Are you aware of the Revolutionary Government?" Some are, some aren't; you wonder at the repetitiveness of the questions, until you realize that this is a government still struggling to establish its identity, still struggling to find out how widespread knowledge of its existence really is, still struggling, above all, to assert its authority. The trial is, among other things, an attempt to control public perception, to put a spin on matters that may have moved too fast, too far out of control. It is, in effect, an impromptu referendum on the fledgling government--a mini-snap election meant to prove that government's legitimacy.

>>>>> what do we call this? over-reading.

Anonymous said...

Where O'Hara differs from Dreyer, aside from the question of money, is in his overtly theatrical style (Dreyer enjoyed a budget of seven million francs--ultimately ballooning into nine million--while O'Hara had a slightly augmented (thanks to a last-minute save by TV talk show host Boy Abunda) but still tiny budget of 1.8 million pesos (roughly thirty-nine thousand dollars)).

>>>>>> he’y, o’hara is the best film maker IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD because despite the meager budget, he is able to do what seven million francs could do. NOBODY IS BETTER THAN O’HARA, NOBODY!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I don't understand the film's critics, and their complaint about the film's 'theatricality;' what on earth do they mean? Films have been theatrical since the very beginning, from D.W. Griffith's creaky 19th century-style melodramas to Charlie Chaplin's sublime pantomimes. They have often shifted from naturalism to an actual stage: Michael Powell's The Red Shoes, Laurence Olivier's Henry V, Jean Renoir's The Golden Coach, to name a few (the Renoir, incidentally, celebrates the superiority of theater's artificiality over life's humdrum realism). They have directly translated stage plays onto the big screen in ways that are both recognizably stagebound and incontestably cinematic: Robert Altman's Secret Honor and Come to the 5 and Dime Jimmy Dean Jimmy Dean; Jonathan Demme's Swimming to Cambodia. There are even great unabashed adaptations of opera and ballet: Ingmar Bergman's delightful The Magic Flute, Carroll Ballard's The Nutcracker. Theatricality is a tool, no less valid for having its roots in an older, more venerated medium; one should judge a film as to how well it uses the tool of theatricality, not condemn it for being theatrical per se.

>>>>>>>>> this is it, the fanaticism at work. “Theatricality is a tool, no less valid for having its roots in an older, more venerated medium; one should judge a film as to how well it uses the tool of theatricality, not condemn it for being theatrical per se.” What???????! Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye!!!!

Anonymous said...

So please--no more use of the word 'theatrical' as an insult when applied to a film; that only shows ignorance. If anything, films can use more theatricality; Mike Nichols' adaptation of Angels in America is faithful enough, but thuddingly literal-minded, complete with overfamiliar actual locations and boring digital effects. A dose of the original production's giddy theatrics (including an angel with wings the size of a private plane actually crashing through a ceiling) could have lifted the production to a higher level.

>>>>>>>>> Please, no more use of word theatrical as an insult… HUH?!!!! When you want to do theatricality, go to stage, not film. HUH?!!!! What is this? Noel Vera’s rule?????????!!!!!!!! For O’hara alone? See what fanaticism can do!

Anonymous said...

In O'Hara's case he uses the moro-moro, and anyone familiar with history will know that Bonifacio was at one point a moro-moro actor. Filmmaker/stage actor Dennis Marasigan points out that the moro-moro colloquially means a predetermined outcome, in that the moro (the Muslim) will always be vanquished; hence here, in the choice of theater form, does O'Hara reveal his attitude towards the veracity and integrity of this trial ("don't even bother defending yourself, the verdict has already been decided"). In fact, it's a song and dance that is still being practiced today, in the field of public opinion, in the arena of politics ("don't even bother voting, the winner has already been decided").

>>>>>>> my idol o’hara is the best, only he can do this.... Noel Vera.

Anonymous said...

But that doesn't even get to the heart of this bewitching, bothersome, bewildering film; an alternate title for it could be The Passion of Andres Bonifacio--not just because in its record of his suffering and death there are close parallels to Christ (that cruel ending--which may put Bonifacio's courage in momentary, all-too-human doubt, but does not, ultimately, refute it--only emphasizes this) but because the film, after all is said and done, is a love story.

>>>>>> Please, believe me, Mario o Hara is the best filmmaker there is. Please, parang awa nyo na..- Noel Vera.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes--while Bonifacio's wife Gregoria de Jesus (Danielle Castano) sings the melancholy love song "Jocelynang Baliwag," we have Andres Bonfacio (Alfredo Vargas) and his soon-to-be rival Emilio Aguinaldo (Lancer Raymundo) slicing open their wrists with knives and pressing them together in a blood compact. It's difficult to remember, considering how thoroughly and intensely the two leaders quarreled with each other, that they were once close allies, that Bonifacio himself may have initiated Aguinaldo into the Katipunan (the secret revolutionary society Bonifacio founded to overthrow the Spaniards), that the movement was in all probability Aguinaldo's first true love--as it remained Bonifacio's continuing and (it turns out) final one.

>>>>>>>>> Si Mario o Hara lang makakagawa nito – Noel vEra

Anonymous said...

Everything makes psychological and dramatic sense from there. Bonifacio's seething anger (to paraphrase William Congreve: hell hath no fury like a lover scorned), Aguinaldo's passionate demands that Bonifacio be spared, Aguinaldo's heartbreakingly wordless acknowledgment that he can only do so much. It's the film's emotional core, its passionate, full-blooded heart; it's what made every hair on my arms and neck stand up while watching the picture. It's why I think the film--for all its historical accuracy, its metaphysical tricks, its cinematic fireworks (done on a shoestring budget) and its, yes, theatricality--is a great film.

>>>> Listen to me, everyone!!!!!!! MY HAIRS ON MY ARMS AND NECK STAND UP. BECAUSE MARIO O HARA IS THE BEST FILMMAKER IN THE WORLD. LISTEN TO ME. NOBODY CAN DO THIS. ONLY MARIO OHARA – Noel Vera

Anonymous said...

Need I say it? Best film of the year, of several years.

>>>>>>>>>> THIS IS THE BEST! I TELL YOU. THIS IS THE BEST OF THE DECADE. TAKE MY WORD FOR IT. I CANNOT BE WRONG. THIS IS THE BEST. MANIWALA KAYO PARANG AWA NYO. PANGINOON KO, PAPANIWALAIN MO SILA SA AKIN. THIS IS THE BEST FILM PERIOD. BEESSTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT EVER!!!!! – Noel Vera

Noel Vera said...

Wow. I'm actually flattered. My own cyberstalker.

--Noel Vera

Quentin Tarantado said...

Jeez, you're all the way there and you got to watch it. WHERE in the Philippines is it showing?!

Noel Vera said...

I don't know. The Cinemalaya Festival is over--that was the best time. Otherwise they'll have screenings here, there. Keep your ears open...

The Constant Bonsaist said...

The Anonymous poster is either drunk, high on cocaine (or both), or a bitter ingitera.

Noel Vera said...

Yeah, but how many of him are there out there? Don't scare him away, I've always wanted my own cyberstalker...

Anonymous said...

yeah, don't shoo me away. minus me, you're left with, what, three, four readers?

constant bonsai, with i assume a bonsai mind, im pretty sane, saner than that fanatic vera who leaves all sobriety behind when faced with his idol, no matter how kiss-ass he appears before him.

if you can dispute what ive posted here, then i gave you all the right in the world to call me anything you want just as you can't limit me in underscoring what obsession this whatsisname, noel vera, is capable of.

where you put the garbage? in the trash bin. please say yes!

and, yes, im anonymous.

Noel Vera said...

What? Pfft, no, hell no, I'm not going to shoo you away; I agree, you're a rare bonsai, I haven't had a cyberstalker in these pages for, I don't know months.

Go, take your shoes off, relax, hang around. Absolutely, you can post whatever inane pickaninny idea on these pages, I'll publish em. Knock yourself out.

So what's your REAL name? C'mon, grow a pair.

Noel Vera said...

Correction: Jocyelynang Baliwag is more of a patriotic than love song (unless you consider patriotism a kind of love, for flag and country, which would be valid).

smea-chan said...

isn't there a very recent Bonifacio movie shown this year? Supremo i think i was the title. been searching high and low for dvds of it... hope it won't be for naught.

Noel Vera said...

Wish I could help you on that, but I haven't the faintest idea about DVD releases myself. Kabayan Central, maybe?

TopOfBlogs [Valid Atom 1.0] blogville.us BlogCatalog http://globeofblogs.com/buttons/globe_blogs.gif