In “Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral”, the second film in Jerold Tarog’s planned trilogy of historical biopics, image is the thriving currency. It begins, aptly, with its titular general borrowing Napoleon’s stance as he poses for a photograph. The scene, though ostensibly frivolous, makes an interesting prelude to what the film is about. Like in his Camera Trilogy—“Confessional”, “Mangatyanan”, and “Sana Dati”—Tarog in this film uses the Camera as the prism that skews the truth in front of and behind it, this time lamenting about the country’s culture of collective idolatry.
Gregorio Del Pilar, played with aplomb by Paulo Avelino, has gotten its good side: the city of Ilocos cheers on his triumphs, women thirst for his hazelnut gaze, and Emilio Aguinaldo (Mon Confiado) keeps him at arm’s length as his most trusted confidante. All of this succeeds the execution of the country’s greatest general in 2015’s “Heneral Luna”, a fallout for which Goyo is directly responsible and one which effectively ensured the downfall of the Philippines’ war against the United States. With this loss creeps an unsuspecting lull amongst Ilocanos who for months would fill their siestas with scrupulous banquets and balagtasan plays in celebration of the heroic soldiers’ homecoming.
The irony, of course, is that Goyo isn’t much different from the town actors in stage productions made in his tribute—a man in a costume, no less suspect to the banalities of festivities and worship. One character surmises it with maniac stoicism. “You’re not a hero,” a bloodied Manuel Bernal (Arthur Acuña) exclaims, noting Goyo’s misguided loyalty to Aguinaldo. “You’re a dog!” This conflict, coupled with the traumas that the war inflicts to anyone caught in it, roosts at the film’s crest. But unlike the eponymous general’s chosen insignia—the Eagle—it stays nestled in its coop, and fails to nip at the neuroses of someone thrust in a situation so much bigger than him, much less take flight.
That part is hard to miss, what with the film’s messages spat through somber introspections and too-little-too-late costly epiphanies. Joven, the wide-eyed ever-curious journalist played by Arron Villaflor, finds himself at the company of Goyo and his underlings—his irascible brother, Julian (Rafa Siguion-Reyna), and trustworthy friend and captain, Vicente (Carlo Aquino)—as the guild’s official photographer. It’s his perspective through which we experience the film much like in “Luna”, but here he serves little beyond that function. Elsewhere, Apolinario Mabini (Epi Quizon) laments about the ills that afflict his country, helpless as his wisdom is unheard as his feet are stationery.
Those who watch Tarog’s films will learn, as I long have, to expect a certain standard in his storytelling. His best film to date, a resolutely introspective drama called “Mangatyanan”, is best read like a love letter addressed to a neglected nation. It’s a lovely little film and it happens to be one over which Tarog had the most control. The screenplay for “Goyo”, which he co-wrote with Rody Vera, doesn’t come without its flaws—a huge chunk of it is devoted to Goyo’s courtship of Remedios (Gwen Zamora), an affair that seems to exist to trigger a change in Goyo’s character, skyward glances and all—but it’s interesting to see the dynamic it yields when Tarog works with a co-writer.
The result: a somber tale of introspection with furtive yet fierce intensity marshaled by Tarog’s trademark craftsmanship. It’s a reminder of what’s left to fight for and how it’s always worth it.
Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral
2018 / Action, Drama, History, War / PH
Direction: Jerrold Tarog
Screenplay: Jerrold Tarog, Rody Vera
Cast: Paulo Avelino, Mon Confiado, Arron Villaflor, Jeffrey Quizon, Carlo Aquino, Gwen Zamora, Benjamin Alves, Rafa Siguion-Reyna
“The revolution marches on against the Americans after the bloody death of General Antonio Luna. The conflicted philosophies behind the heroic struggle continue and become personified in the colorful character of General Gregorio “Goyo” del Pilar.”