I don’t know enough about the history to have a good picture of what the real Antonio Luna was like. I do know that the Luna depicted in the film is every hard-ass Filipino I’ve ever known from the generation before mine. Jovial one minute, borderline abusive the next, before going right back to jovial. I suppose in a lot of ways, HENERAL LUNA is more about the Filipino mindset in general, with the way it portrays the good, bad, and ugly of just about every Filipino peccadillo I’ve ever known. Take “the ties that bind” for instance, and all the ways that loyalty to family, the barangay, the province interfered with things like nation-building. “It’s easier for the earth to meet the sky,” Luna says in the film, “than for two Filipinos to agree on anything!”
Really though, it’s pretty even-handed and definitely far from self-hating, from the way we romanticize memories of home and hearth, to the way a loving mother starts a conversation with her grown son with a smack to the mouth, to the universal Filipino response to someone with a competing interest, no matter how compelling: “Who do you think you are?”
The dramatis personae is huge and the film did its best to keep the characters straight, and to highlight and summarize historical events with small text blocks, almost like a graphic novel. But I think its still struggled with its scope. Still, HENERAL LUNA’S strength is in its depiction of the people. You may not like everyone in the film, but it’s very possible to feel sympathy for all of them. Well, except for maybe Emilio Aguinaldo — but then, that’s always been the case with ol’ Magdalo.