When Alfred Vargas’ Supremo came out more than two years ago, I praised it for the movie’s willingness to tackle an uncomfortable part of our history, and little more. But Robin Padilla’s Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo builds up on the good things its predecessor did and improved it by leaps and bounds.
B:AUP is not the first Filipino film to tackle the 1896 Revolution as subject matter. If there’s one thing that historical period didn’t lack in, it was battles, heroes, and villains (more on the latter two). That’s why I’ve always wondered why other ‘1896’ films didn’t put much effort in their battle scenes.
A Greek military defeat was presented as a glorious battle in 300, while an eventual losing uprising in Scotland became one of cinema’s most epic moments in Braveheart. Why haven’t our historical films received the same treatment?
Bonifacio has finally addressed that lack. Yes, the Katipunan’s raid on the Spanish armory is a bit over-the-top and might not be totally accurate. BUT WHO CARES?! Other nations and cultures have glorified their heroes and presented them as ‘larger than life’. There’s no harm in doing the same here. This shows the director and producer’s commitment to putting effort into every aspect and detail of the movie.
(And nothing got my blood pumping like the final battle scene)
While certain details may not have been 100% accurate (battle scenes and the titular hero and heroine’s courtship, for example), B:AUP was more faithful in retelling the 1896 Revolution than any other mainstream film before it. Indeed, it is a better learning material for history students than most of the textbooks they use today.
One scene that grabbed my attention in particular was how the Katipuneros addressed the problem of low membership and slow recruitment by printing and distributing their own newspaper (which was hidden inside a mainstream publication). B:AUP‘s predecessors never went into such detail, preferring to present revolutions as something spontaneous like several people deciding to “Hey, let’s make baka, you know?” and then other people agreeing “Yeah, it’s cool to make aklas”.
Another one was the scene where the Katipuneros held their meetings inside a cave. Now that’s literally an underground activity. In addition to highlighting the risk they faced merely by being members of the KKK, the storytelling portion of the legend of Bernardo Carpio was a nice touch as it somehow connects the Katipunan’s struggle with previous ones.
Perhaps the most daring move of the film was its willingness to smash ‘historical myths’ created by generations of government officials, historians, teachers, and mass media; namely, the role of Emilio Aguinaldo. The official ‘Independence’ Day is celebrated in relation to an Aguinaldo-related (and U.S-related) event, not a Bonifacio-related event such as the Sigaw ng Pugadlawin. He is considered the first president of the country.
B:AUP takes a wrecking ball against those myths: from the very title of the film, the perfect casting choice for Aguinaldo and his fellow ‘coup plotters against the Katipunan’ (even if you didn’t know anything about Philippine history, one look and YOU KNOW), and even the lighting of certain scenes
In sum, Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo should be commended for refusing to recreate the ‘sanitized’, ‘textbook-version’ of Philippine history without sacrificing quality and viewer enjoyment. Some may argue that the film is blatantly biased in favor of the Katipunan’s Supremo and that the producers are rewriting history.
But equally biased forces have rewritten the Bonifacio story a century or more ago. A great organizer-agitator and fearless commander was reduced to an illiterate atapang a-tao who has more guts than brains.
Perhaps it is the hidden messages that the 1896 Revolution remains relevant today that is most uncomfortable to the film’s critics, whether it be the message that the ‘educated elite’ cannot be trusted to lead the nation, or the message that some Filipinos profit from the misery of others, or that the ‘uneducated mass’ can rise up to change history.
But whatever it is, perhaps in this rewriting, we are finally getting the true story.