Battle of wits, wills in historical epic

By Rito P. Asilo Blogs

MANILA, Philippines - Mark Meily's follow-up to 2005's rousing "La Visa Loca" is a noble albeit flawed attempt to "clarify" a contentious, but little-known episode of the Philippine revolution against the country's Spanish colonizers at the end of the 19th century: The Siege of Baler. Trust Meily to rally behind a brave, bold cause to tell an amazing piece of the nation's history using the Filipino perspective.

For 338 days, from July 1, 1898, to June 2, 1899, a small Spanish contingent-made up of 57 Spanish soldiers and Filipino-Spanish mestizos -fortified itself in the church of San Luis de Tolosa in Baler, Aurora, and resisted the unrelenting attacks of Filipino insurgents.

The psychological warfare waged in this compelling battle of wits and wills is instructive and insightful. The stubborn Spanish troops holed up (and trapped) in the church thought that the news of Spain losing to its enemies in the Spanish-American War was merely a psychological ploy to trick them into raising the white flag.


So, the fair-skinned soldiers endured hunger, beriberi and bullets for almost a year! They were only convinced of the authenticity of the report when the Treaty of Paris was enacted, and a newspaper from Madrid confirmed the end of Spanish reign in their erstwhile colonies all over the globe.

Meily utilizes this sweeping historical milieu as a backdrop to dramatize the bittersweet love story of the movie's star-crossed lovers, Celso Resurrecion (Jericho Rosales) and Feliza Reyes (Anne Curtis).

The couple's Romeo-and-Juliet dilemma lies in the fact that Celso is a Spanish-Filipino mestizo who serves in the Spanish military, considered the ultimate enemy by Feliza's vengeful father, Daniel (Phillip Salvador), who happens to be one of the leaders of Aurora's Filipino guerrilla movement.

Unique story

Alas, noble intentions don't a great film make. Meily's latest production isn't the seamless movie it's touted to be-though the filmmaker's valiant effort to tell the Baler siege's unique story deserves moviegoers' support.

After all, the public needs to realize there's more to the annual "family-oriented" film festival than loud and livid rib-ticklers and freaky monsters that continually get resurrected in various shapes and sizes year after year-after year.

Rosales has always been an engaging performer, and he doesn't disappoint here, either. The same is true for his leading lady, Anne Curtis, whose disarming presence provides a soothing balm to all that blood and mayhem onscreen.

Unfortunately, Jericho and Anne don't have much chemistry-an indispensable element required to ignite Celso and Feliza's feelings for each other: Thus, much of the needed romanticism is lost in the film's dialogue and exposition.

Flashes of dramatic brilliance

For his part, Phillip Salvador displays flashes of dramatic brilliance in a number of inspired sequences (notably, in the scene where he welcomes back his estranged son, played by Carlo Aquino), but we're seeing a "trend" that we find distracting in his performances of late: He mistakes intensity for sustained seething anger (remember "For the First Time"?).

The production's two-pronged subject matter keeps the storytelling unfocused and protracted: You're not sure if the movie wants to examine a historical event more than draw attention to Celso and Feliza's love story. Plus, scenes showing the Spanish soldiers' dire situation lack the tension and claustrophobic feel they require.

So, despite Lee Meily's noteworthy, postcard-pretty cinematography and the main leads' above-par portrayals, your attention will eventually meander halfway through the movie.