Screenplay, Ricky Lee, June Lana, Peter Ong Lim. Camera (color/B&W), Rody Lacap; editors, Jess Navarro, Manet Dayrit; music, Nonong Buencamino. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 18, 1999. Tagalog dialogue. Running time: 178 MIN.
With: Cesar Montano, Joel Torre, Jaime Fabregas, Gloria Diaz, Gardo Versoza, Monique Wilson, Chin Chin Gutierrez, Mickey Ferriols, Pen Medina.
While there’s no denying the importance of Jose Rizal to the history of a free Philippines, or the demonstrable fervor of the team behind this mammoth biopic, unwieldy result is more hagiographic than dramatic, suggesting strictly local theatrical and miniseries play, as well as specialized fest dates.
Awaiting his execution at Fort Santiago prison in Manila, the multidisciplined intellectual looks back on his rich life, from a childhood as young “Pepe” through his worldwide studies (he could speak 22 languages), life as a fiery young activist, and publication of the two satirical jabs at the Spanish that resulted in his arrest on trumped-up charges of treason. Production is crisp to the point of sterility, with vet helmer Marilou Diaz-Abaya employing an almost stylized tone of exaggerated melodrama (including B&W flashback sequences) to keep the connect-the-dots narrative moving briskly. Cesar Montano cuts a dignified figure as the national icon, while the sheer number of supporting roles renders many of them one-dimensional. Pic was produced to commemorate the 1998 Philippine Centennial, which dates from 18 months after Rizal’s death by firing squad at age 35.