Review: Aguinaldo and his story in 'El Presidente'

Posted at 12/27/12 7:30 PM

A scene from "El Presidente"

MANILA, Philippines -- Written and directed by Mark Meily, "El Presidente" chronicles the life of Emilio Aguinaldo, and in doing so, vividly recaptures one of the most important periods of our nation’s history.

Meily describes it as a “fiction film based on a historical figure,” paving the way for the film producers to call this an interpretation, given the more controversial historical scenarios we find in the film.

Laguna Gov. ER Estregan, who plays the lead role, relates how the amassing of research materials that went into the film began in 1998, and it took six months of shooting to bring the impressive biopic to the screen.

The magnanimous aspect of Aguinaldo’s personality is the overriding impression one gets from the film, something that history books fail to impress upon us. In fact, it may be decades since my last Philippine History school lesson, but I do recall that the books we’d use would often paint rosy pictures of our struggle for independence, practically making everyone a hero.

What "El Presidente" does, to its credit, is expose the political infighting, rivalries and dissension within the ranks that mark the reality of what would have transpired. Misconceptions are dispelled with, and educated interpretations are made, in this film. This is especially pronounced in the film’s treatment of the Bonifacio brothers, and Antonio Luna’s role during this era.

Impressive as well is how such luminaries of nationalism as Apolinario Mabini, Gregorio del Pilar, Felipe Agoncillo and many others, all come to life via this film treatment.

Filmed in Dolby sound and with high-resolution cameras, it’s safe to say that the film sets a new standard for Filipino filmmaking.

The raising of the Filipino flag in Kawit on June 12, 1898, the role the Americans played and how their supposed disinterest in creating an Asian presence flew out the window, the life of Aguinaldo during the American colonial period and his life watching from the sidelines up to his death in 1964  — these all make for the enlightening coda to the film.

And Meily elicits superb performances from the ensemble cast with Cesar Montano as Andres Bonifacio and Ronnie Lazaro as Aguinaldo’s childhood friend and comrade as my favorites.

Richard Attenborough’s "Gandhi," Steven Spielberg’s "Lincoln," Martin Scorsese’s "Aviator" — these are just some of the great biopics that have come our way in recent film history.

Here in the Philippines, "El Presidente," rated A by the Cinema Evaluation Board, may be the closest we now have to set up against these films. The care, the attention to detail and the commitment to produce a quality film all combine to make this a film we owe ourselves as Filipinos to watch and learn from.