For Filipino films, even the most award-winning ones never quite reach the same level as their Hollywood counterparts. Heneral Luna represents a new milestone in this regard. From production values like set design, special effects and cinematography to the important qualities such as acting and directing, we now have a film of our own that can stand toe to toe on every aspect with the best American cinema can offer.
It all starts with the aesthetics, as every shot and every location feels like it belongs to the time period. The cinematography bleeds the artistry of a skilled cinematographer, as sweeping and immersive shots take moviegoers to a level rarely seen in Philippine cinema. The special effects have thankfully avoided the gaping hole of overbearing ambition. They are used only where they make sense and they nail it each time.
Acting in this film is near spot on. You only just rarely see acting so unconvincing you have no choice but to heighten your suspension of disbelief in a level typically reserved for other local productions. John Arcilla is a force to be reckoned with, just like the character he so eagerly plays. You feel invested in his story because he’s just so good an actor and Jerrold Tarog’s artistic vision is fully realized every step of the way.
The fierceness of the lead character makes for an entertaining time in the theater, but the the depth of the story is what will keep the audience thinking, and supporting this film as it makes its bid for the Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. The film plays like a maestro is pulling the strings behind the screen, the best thing being it never quite shoves its themes into your face. As it’s more of a tragedy, Heneral Luna displays the reality of its period in an impactful way that feels relevant in modern times.
A film deserving of its critical and commerial success, Heneral Luna represents a big leap for Philippine cinema. It’s the overall package, not one that struggles because of the budget. The acting isn’t done in the teleserye way, leaning towards realism instead. The film doesn’t feel cheap for a change, thanks to the camerawork. And the portrayal of a historical figure is believable, for showing both his strengths and downfalls. But perhaps the most important thing is the film doesn’t feel like an exercise in history because it hooks you in with its charming lead and impactful story.