White Flag

Forbidden Love
Love is known to usher inevitable compromises. Not unlike love are movies about love. They challenge the jaded, perfunctory education of the brain to relinquish the common cynicism, apprehensiveness, and gag-reflex of the modern, love-worn individual. Baler is no different. Set in the 19th century when the Philippines is at the verge of a colonial transition, the story progresses from one romantic flourish to the next speckled with the occasional demonstration of wholesome movie-grade patriotism, sentimental humanism, and your good-ol’ helping of mechanical Filipino-style drama. Moviegoers who are anxious enough to find a decent and intelligible MMFF film that still retains some of its swoon factor would not be disappointed. Hopefully they didn’t forget to heave their boyfriends along, kicking and screaming.

Baler tells the forbidden love story of Celso and Felisa. Celso Resureccion the charming half-breed recruit of the Spanish contingent in Baler is played by the not-so-mestizo-looking actor Jericho Rosales while Felisa, his coquettish indio beloved, is played by the trophy-bestowed and unindio-ishly pale actress Anne Curtis. The two exchange sweet nothings in both Tagalog and Spanish and drench themselves euphorically (albeit uninhibitedly) in the pristine, sun-threshed landscape while a war is festering in the mainland, not to mention in the grave mind of Felisa’s father, a rebel leader played by the ever robust Philip Salvador. Eventually, a planned assault by the Filipino insurgents drives the small but motley Spanish guard into the unimposing church of San Luis de Tolosa where the soldiers will hold their ground for an excruciating 337 days sequestered from all communication and succor from the outside world. It is under these terms that the love story takes on a Shakespearean relish with the two lovers separated by family, nationality, and the harsh veracities of war. Needless to say the siege from which the film derives most of its credibility becomes the white noise of the whole movie outfit, much to the dismay of nationalistic purists who deem the film as too neo-colonial.

Politics aside, the movie is in its sheer essence a historical romance. History jives with accuracy. Historical films are supposed to hold some degree of accuracy. But accuracy does not always equal money. It is often difficult to market period dramas despite how well-crafted they are to the MMFF crowd due to a number of reasons. Period pieces usually do not allow the crowd-pleasing doses of comedic leverage or automatic thrills required to get them into the second or third week of the MMFF Calvary. Despite this Mark Meily took the risk that most Filipino directors make. Hence, to criticize the film in relative terms and not on its inherent merits and flaws would do the act a gross disservice. On that note, let the bullets fly where they may.

There is little to bemoan on the technical aspect of the film. The cinematography was lush and nature-aggrandizing. What was less than natural was the acting. Baron Geisler as the Spanish captain Las Morenas was mostly awkward. The same could be said about the rest of the faux-Spaniards. This would have been forgivable if not for the intermingling with foreign extras that gave away the air of error. Though critics tend to be very fastidious with believability, the main core of the film is still the chemistry between the two main actors. This was palpable enough in Baler for the film to more-or-less claim the Holy Grail of romantic pieces, the much sought after kilig moment, the cornerstone of the Filipino movie industry. Despite Curtis’ bland thespian intimations that leaves one to focus more on her pouty lips rather than her actual dialogue, she still manages to transfix the audience to the task at hand, namely how is she going to get away with having a child out of wedlock in 19th century Catholic Philippines whose father is considered a traitor and the nominal enemy of no less than her own father. Everybody loves a good conflict. It is perhaps only amusing that the greater conflict of the Filipino revolution and the Spanish-American war would be nothing more than a backdrop to the making out of two star-crossed lovers. Simply put, the war in the film lacked urgency, and the waiting for the soldiers to surrender, dragging.

What was meritorious was the manner in which the film humanized the colonizers. Neo-colonialism for some may strike as emphatic humanism for others. Even Felisa’s obstinate father was moved to tears at the sight of his quarter-bred bastard grandchild. The cliché of love being able to penetrate enemy lines is given an endearing face. The character of Felisa’s brother, brought to coltish life by Carlo Aquino, corroborates the undertoned theme of the power of faith and love amidst insurmountable truths, all standard grind in war movies. Yes Baler can be magnificent to behold in its predictability, but not to its own faults does it lavish itself on the usual manipulations common to the ilk of romantic dramas. It has a certain volition of compromise. Not necessarily waving a white flag but a gray one, the kind that pushes the director to choose both quality and marketability. Of course at the present situation of Filipino cinema, one is inclined towards one way rather than the other.

Written By: Alex Milla (Guest Critic)

1 comment:

Charlie Koon said...

its not really bad to choose both quality and marketability. its just a matter of choice.

anyway, i have also seen Baler and since Alex did not give any star rating, for me, its passable. 3/5

btw, alex will be contributing film reviews every now and then. :)

with the entries in MMFF, i personally liked One Night Only.

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