You will watch Supremo, not because of lead actor Alfred Vargas’ acting (it’s lame, as well as most of the cast), not because of the happy ending (it’s impossible), or even the cinematography and musical score (I’ve seen and heard worse, but I’ve also seen and heard better).
You will watch it, however, because it is the first ever movie biography of the lesser-recognized and publicized of our national heroes from the 1896 Revolution. In fact, it may be the first ever movie bio about the Great Plebian since even my parents can’t remember any during their younger days.
That in itself is an achievement. There have been many Rizals but no Bonifacio.
There are a few noteworthy bits. The language used in most of the movie sounds just like what you’d expect the Tagalogs of the 1890s to sound like (very formal and stilted). Macario Sakay acts like a really hyper-active fan boy of the Supremo, Daniel Tirona is perfectly portrayed as a blustering but cowardly ‘hater’, and I think it was a deliberate move to choose a really ugly actor to portray Emilio Aguinaldo.
But that, I must emphasize, is not the reason why I’m giving it a thumbs up.
The reason is that it is finally showing to a wide audience what is at the very least, a highly embarassing moment in Filipino history: when a revolutionary was killed, not by a Spaniard, but by a fellow Filipino. The very first political killing among Filipinos. The legacy of two of the people involved in the assassination of Andres lives on today: the commanding officer of the unit that carried out the execution is an ancestor of former president Gloria Arroyo. The General Headquarters of the military is named after the one who issued the execution order
The entire film is brimming with moments that make you draw comparisons with the present: The soldier manning a checkpoint and demanding an ID from a hapless farmer sounds like something out of a Karapatan human rights report nowadays. A college graduate questioning the capacity of someone who ‘peddles canes and fans’ (if you are really that deficient in history, it’s a reference to the Supreme) to become part of the Katipunan’s leadership sounds like a lot of people I know. The description of farmers roaming the countryside with nothing but their rifles and clothes, subsisting on donations by poor folk while raiding their enemies’ armories, fits the members of the rebel New People’s Army perfectly.
But if you think analogies with the present are what makes this movie politically loaded, you haven’t heard of the outright commentaries by some of the movie’s actors.
One (me and some other people are debating whether it was Mabini or Lanislaw Diwa) said:
“Ang ikinakatakot ay ang himagsikan ay nasa mga timawa sa umaga, ngunit sa gabi ay nasa mga elitista” and “Mag-ingat ka sa mga elitista. Tandaan mo, nagnenegosyo rin sila. At wala silang pinapasok na walang hinihinging kapalit“.
For me, the movie’s redemption is how it forces the average movie goer to take a long, hard, and shocking look at what transpired more than a century ago. A lot of people aren’t even aware that Aguinaldo assassinated Bonifacio. Their ignorance is removed in the most brutal way manner, one that is as brutal as the actual way the Supremo was killed. And it doesn’t gloss over the reason: it shows the supposed First President of our Nation as someone who conspired with elitists who had no respect from a working-class organizer, or a ‘cane and fan’ peddler turned revolutionary.
To repeat, the film itself is nothing extraordinary. If it was submitted as an entry to the MMFF, it would probably shine just because it is beside the worst of Philippine cinema. But what redeems Supremo is the new ground that it breaks. Finally, people will be talking about Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo, and the 1896 Revolution, from its origin to its betrayal. And hopefully, people will be taking more interest in history, not just as a pleasant trip down memory lane, but as a guide to our future.