The Philippines’ official Oscar submission for foreign-language film, “Heneral Luna,” is a fittingly theatrical portrait of larger-than-life Philippine Revolutionary Army commander Antonio Luna, portrayed with considerable gusto by John Arcilla.
A prominent figure during the Philippine-American War after control of the country shifted from Spain to the U.S., Luna contended that the Philippines had an enemy bigger than the Americans: his own splintered nation’s inability to form a unified front.
His determination and keen military strategy served him well on the battlefield, but his bullying arrogance didn’t sit well among an equally divided cabinet, ultimately leading to his 1899 assassination, at age 32, at the hands of his own people.
Well aware of his subject’s iconic status, Jerrold Tarog, the film’s director, co-writer, editor and composer, isn’t particularly interested in character shadings and subtleties. (All the Americans are portrayed as pompous xenophobes.) Tarog prefers an unapologetically mainstream approach to this melding of fact and dramatic conjecture.
Boasting a sizable budget, stirring photography and Arcilla’s charismatic lead performance, “Heneral Luna” would never be mistaken for more serious-minded art-house material, but there are certainly less lively ways to be taught a history lesson.
MPAA rating: R for strong bloody violence, language, brief nudity.
Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle’s NoHo 7, North Hollywood.