Sunday, August 28, 2011

My Amigo review/coverage

Story of Filipinos from an American perspective
By Raymond de Asis Lo, L.A. Correspondent (The Philippine Star) Updated August 29, 2011 12:00 AM 

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Joel Torre (with co-producer Margie Templo): Director John Sayles is an anti-imperialist| Zoom
“John is an anti-imperialist,” declared Joel Torre during the brief Q&A session after the recent screening of Amigo in Santa Monica, California.

The Filipino actor was addressing a question from an audience member who asked how John Sayles, the American writer and director of the movie, came to know of the United States’ aggressive territorial expansion into the pacific at the turn of the 20th century and what was his motivation in bringing the story to the big screen.

John was not present during the screening (he was scheduled to appear the following week for another Q&A session) and Joel had to answer on John’s behalf. His co-producer Margie Templo joined him on stage.

The screening drew Filipinos and Americans who applauded enthusiastically at the end of the screening and gave Joel another resounding applause when he took to the stage.

In Amigo, Joel portrays Rafael Dacanay, the amigo in the title — and the Cabeza de Baranggay of the fictional town of San Isidro, who was caught in the middle of the war between the invading Americans and the Filipino guerillas who were trying todrive the invaders away from Philippine soil.

The movie is told from his character’s perspective and in some way illustrates how the modern Filipino psyche came to be — his constant struggle for independence and freedom yet always falling to the ways of the old. Apparently, the Filipino from a century ago is not quite different from the modern Filipino. We are easy targets for oppression because half of us want independence by surrendering our ideals while the others believe in sacrificing their lives for total and complete independence.

Oscar-nominated director John’s in-depth and revealing movie may not be a historically accurate account of what really transpired during that period but by telling the story of Amigo and showing how the Americans used Filipino spies to betray their compatriots, John made a clear point that no successful invaders get to rule a nation when the citizens of the country are united against it.

The greatest tragedy in the story is not how the Philippines fell quickly into the hands of another foreign invader just after gaining independence from the Spaniards but in how easily the Filipinos took for granted the heroism of the likes of Andres Bonifacio. When the small barrio decided to hold a fiesta celebration in the middle of the war, the filmmakers seem to suggest that the Filipinos can be easily manipulated to accept almost anything as long as they get to hold a party.

During the American occupation, “the Philippines lost out a lot but we can’t keep a grudge,” Joel remarked. “We have to move on. It’s a strange dance between the two countries.”

It’s a strange dance indeed: A century after the war, the two countries are still trying to find the perfect dance. Today, an American director is telling the world the story of the Filipino.

Not that there’s no lesson to be learned. The story of the Filipino is a sad reminder of opportunities gained and opportunities lost. When the world finally gets to see the movie and gets to know our history, it will finally understand why the modern Filipino has this dissonant notion of patriotism and confused sense of national identity.

On the surface, the movie is a powerful indictment against war — although, as one friend commented, the narrative seemed to favor more the Americans — there is no denying that the movie condemns war and its unwanted atrocities. But, somehow, if one were to peer closer into the narrative, one would discover that beneath the obvious was the real story of the Filipino-American war. There really was no “Filipino-American” war. The Americans only triumphed because the Filipinos allowed it. The Filipino character was split during the war: Those who fought for the country’s total independence and those who decided to help the enemy and fought for his own self. The subplot featuring the betrayal of Rafael by his envious brother-in-law Nenong is a sad reminder of this contemptible trait.

Amigo was made without the Philippine government offering any help. The director used his own money to finance the movie while Joel and his Philippine crew provided logistics and other support. “This is John’s labor of love,” Joel said who beamed when someone mentioned that the New York Times singled out his performance in a glowing review.

Although American critics have embraced the movie, it is still too early to tell how the movie will play to mainstream American audience. But, if the screening’s reception is any indication, Amigo will definitely have a good box-office run in the US.

In the Philippines, Amigo was released in late 2010 and, not surprisingly, it didn’t get the audience it deserved. One can only surmise what the ordinary Filipinos were busy with during its Philippine theatrical run that only a few individuals took time to support the movie.

The Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino named Amigo one of the best Filipino films of 2010 yet if you poll ordinary folks on the street, all of them would most likely give you a blank face if you ask them if they have seen the movie or if they are aware of the brief war that broke out between the US and the Philippines at the turn of the past century. The indifference of some Filipino to his history is testament to how far we have come as a nation. We will not be truly independent if our sense of history only goes back to, say, the last elections?

Amigo will continue its US theatrical run throughout the months of August and September in key cities.

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