Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral (Jerrold Tarog, 2018)

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It would be childish of me to dismiss Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral just because it’s from the same production team of Heneral Luna, the movie I didn’t like. Especially after seeing the trailers, news, and mini-documentaries which showed us of what Mr. Tarog had set himself to do, a more brain wracking challenge in terms of scope and expectations. This new attempt must have given him more pressure than the first.

Glad that there was none of an overly mad, cursing and highly synthetic John Arcilla creation that nearly shamed even Duterte then that dominated the film (I had to italicize ‘nearly’ and ‘then’ realizing that nobody could be worst than Duterte now). That alone made Goyo an improvement to the first of the trilogy by leaps and bounds.

Paulo Avelino as Gregorio del Pilar was a fit and should have made things easier for Tarog, the actor being somewhat close in age and physicaĺ attributes with the real general I imagined imbued with the same youthful energy and magnetizing charm. Plus, Paulo’s acting skills are almost always reliable. He successfully met the complexity and the nuances that this role required. He did not merely pose in front of the camera as if the act were to produce some relic to be discarded. He convinced us that his pose carried that foresight that the pictures then would be for posterity, like what both astute and self-absorbed people could think of, as possibly Goyo also did.

Avelino got the amount of braggadocio right. He looked arrogant on many ocassions effortlessly–that slightly proud chin and the confusingly sleepy eyelids covering his probing eyes, the pride in his protruding lower lip. The actor must have internalized and allowed himself to be infected by the wild crowd and women amazed by his mere presence. He had the backing of this knowledge that his character’s ‘greatness’ as a military man and his enviable and seductive power were partly attributable to Goyo’s being privileged, enshrined as mighty and marked protected by the then president of the land. He understood and projected that air without looking like he was trying hard.

After Luna’s death, Goyo in the movie was presented to imagine fearing for his life, questioning himself for his bloody work of exterminating ex-comrades that defected the Aguinaldo leadership, the strains and worry on Avelino’s face.

His pride, fears and questions created this internal struggle that was both epic and small in scope. It humanized the great man that he was made himself to believe, what would the tag the youngest general of the Philippine Republic put in his head? At each movement of the story, from the news of General Luna’s murder up to The Battle of Tirad Pass, we saw Goyo being dragged into self-doubt and losing focus, turning more consumed by his nightmares than by the little clues and sounds that many times could have spelled instant disaster to the brigade and families that were under his wings.

He had to learn slowly. Bitterly. Witnessing his men fall down. Seeing people during their trek crying in hunger and exhaustion. We were made to contemplate about the futility of such a journey, which was really an escape, an acceptance, that we were ill-prepared, lacking resources, divided as a nation like what we are now.

And then, a mere dot of a man against the vastness of nature, overwhelmed by his big responsibility, he scanned the world his eyes could reach–simultaneously thinking of the future of his nation and himself. The mystery of how to succeed and rise up amid all the noise and priorities, amid the flawed strategems, could only be revealed with the help of his passion–in following the beats of his heart. That must have lured his eagle to rest on a branch, and then to listen to a fitting haunting sung artpiece, which sent us all rolling in slo-mo, blissful, on a bed, nostalgic, and which confirmed that Tarog’s knowledge of rhythm and his fine taste in presenting beauty could unmistakably be springing from the romantic and the musician in him.

Goyo rests now in our hearts. His heroism textured by our experiencing of what he must have been. Our spirits, filled with praises, sing.

~ Robert Cerda (Space Aso)

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