Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio (2010)

Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio (Mario O'Hara, 2010)
English Title: The Trial of Andres Bonifacio

When a film is described as poetic, it is often taken as a compliment. However, when a film is described as theatrical, it is seen as a critique, scathing at that. What makes poetry the better spouse to cinema? Isn’t cinema but a visual and aural interplay of poetry and theater to begin with? Theater provides the cornerstones: the narrative, the milieu, the setting and the characters. Poetry, on the other hand, more than the façade and the flourishes, provides the requisite subtlety in the execution --- the minute gestures that accentuate a character, that last five seconds of absolute silence before a cut, the symbols, the verses, the rhymes, and rhythms. This is purely hypothetical. But if films are judged based on a balance where theatricality is measured with poetry, and the former outweighs the latter by a large margin, does it mean that the film is better off staged than filmed?

Of course, cinema, contrary to common misconception, is vaster than the trite and absolutely baseless hypothesis that was just forwarded. For that reason, cinema should and cannot be caged to what is merely “cinematic” because the term “cinematic” itself is already enigmatic, subjective in its very definition and has something more to do with how the recorded moving pictures are treated and utilized to express rather than how these pictures are moved and later on recorded. That being said, for all the accusations of supposed theatricality, Mario O’Hara’s flawed yet masterful Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio (The Trial of Andres Bonifacio) is truly cinematic, probably the most important and cinematic creation that the Cinemalaya Film Festival ever produced in its six years of existence.

Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio starts off after the Tejeros Convention where Andres Bonifacio (Alfred Vargas), a commoner from Tondo who is the founder and regarded father of the Philippine Revolution, has lost the presidency of the Revolutionary Government to Emilio Aguinaldo (Lance Raymundo), one of the more popular generals in the province of Cavite. In the midst of the revolutionary war against the Spanish colonizers, the revolutionary government initiates a trial against Andres and his brother Procopio (Janvier Daily), for treason, when the two, along with several of their men, were captured in a town where a supposed confrontation ensued between Bonifacio and Aguinaldo’s camps. Artistic liberties aside like the ghostly narrator (Mailes Kanapi) who conveniently appears to provide present-day commentaries and reactions on the events of the past, O’Hara does not deviate from recorded history, neither adding nor deleting anything from the written accounts of the trial to depict one of the most contentious and mysterious events in Philippine history, one that has been a pointed precursor to several of the present ills that plague Filipino politics.

I agree. Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio is theatrical, but theatricality and literariness is the point. What essentially is the value of history translated into film, as is? It only glorifies and celebrates the erroneous artifice of a concrete and permanent history, as written by the few, and more damningly, by the few who are in the position to write and create history. We have seen this happen with Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Jose Rizal (1998), a film that attempted to film Jose Rizal’s life as fact that it only succeeded in being both glossy yet tepid, as compared to Mike De Leon’s Bayaning Third World (Third World Hero, 2000), a film that has experiential knowledge of the impossibility of committing history to celluloid that it resigned itself to deconstructing the hero and what it has become in the present age.

The film, self-consciously theatrical from its very first frame up to the last, eschews reverence for its depiction of history. By scripting the trial as it was recorded up to the final recount of Lazaro Macapagal who read to Andres and his brother Aguinaldo’s verdict, utilizing theater actors to play historical figures as if they were acting on stage for immediate audiences and hence enunciating words, expanding bodily gestures, and utilizing exaggerated acting styles, and employing several theatrical and literary devices, O’Hara treats history as literature and more specifically, treats the trial of Bonifacio as fiction, dramatized and romanticized. This film’s form, as described above, aptly sets the tone for the grandiose stage play that is Bonifacio’s trial, a proceeding set-up to emulate a sense of fairness and justice in the dilemma of legitimately dispatching the utmost symbol of the revolution.

It is undoubtedly inevitable that many viewers would imagine Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio as history recreated in film for the singular purpose of historical education, and I seriously fear educational institutions treating the film as such, feeding eager minds O’Hara’s clever mockery of recorded history as truth and fact. Before ending up with conclusions about historical figures whose lives and deaths are buried deep in speculations, hypotheses, and conflicting accounts, one should cognize the genius of O’Hara’s exploitation of the media he utilizes, that the Andres Bonifacio of his film is the Andres Bonifacio of the records of the biased revolutionary government, the main character of a staged play, the leading man of a film, and not the revered national hero of the Philippines.

O’Hara curiously incorporates the tale of the Ibong Adarna, also staged, in his film. Vargas, apart from playing Andres, also plays the youngest prince who in the Adarna tale, meets a hermit who gives him a knife and several lemons to keep him awake as the Adarna bird sings its lulling song. The film’s use of the Adarna tale ends mid-tale, when Andres and his brother are killed by Aguinaldo’s men. Death, more than the grand equalizer of men, is also the most effective means to silence men. Unlike the youngest prince of the Adarna tale who will be able to return to his father’s castle after being beaten up by his jealous brothers, and be acknowledged for his feat of capturing the Adarna bird and curing his father, Andres and Procopio’s deaths in the hands of his fellow Filipinos has left an incurable, lingering void in a country’s problematic history. All we can really do is investigate, speculate, and hopefully, create, and that as we do all those things, we can nurse this ailing nation to full health, with or without the help of the mysterious songs of the mythical bird.

(Cross-published on Twitch.)


Dennis N. Marasigan said...


i agree with you. i was arguing with a friend who criticized the film as being theatrical, while all along i could see that what mario o'hara wanted to show from the first frame was that the trial was a "moro-moro" or komedya -- that is, theater.

i still believe that for just the courage to create the film as he envisioned it to be (and succeeding, as i see it) and not as others would want it to be, mario deserved to be the best director of the festival.

foursundaysofseptember said...

Amen. But do you think that's the same explanation for making Agunaldo a cry-baby making him a general without balls, or was that just bad acting?

jerrold said...

Still not buying it, Oggs.

I'm not averse to filmed plays per se. VANYA ON 42nd STREET, MASTER HAROLD AND THE BOYS...and even the dinner conversation piece MY DINNER WITH ANDRE were all interesting works that didn't hide their stage origins. But when one watches from a 2d screen, suspension of disbelief is mandatory in order for the characters to sink in. The works I mentioned compensated for their theatricality by using cinematic devices like muted acting (particularly lowered voice levels), choreographed camera movements and naturalistic lighting. These devices allow for the intimate transaction of empathy between character and audience that's unique to cinema.

But as you pointed out, PAGLILITIS stayed on the level of theater. And it did so on purpose. Projected voices and expansive gestures, asides, interludes, proscenium style shots (or from a mounted static position, like a theater audience's POV). All deliberate...and all of which resulted in me being unable to suspend my disbelief. In Tagalog: wala akong makapitan. I watch films to 1) empathize with characters, 2) get absorbed by the story, and 3) marvel at cinematic (not stage) craft. I do not watch just to marvel at the director's cojones.

Having said that, I admire and respect O' Hara for his bravery and unique take on history. He wanted to stage a "moro-moro" and he did it. But, see, that admiration stays on the level of intellect. It is academic. We're back to the cinema of intent. At this point in our cinematic development, do we really need to go back there?

Could O'Hara be the festival's best director as Dennis said? YES. I'd buy that. It's the only category where bravery can be used as a gauge. But we have to ask firmly: did O'Hara make a film or did he film a play? If the latter was his intention, do we praise the work for being what it is? Do we laud it for being the orange in a box of apples? Or can we be more grounded and put the orange back to where it belongs?

There IS a difference between film and theatre...and it's not an indecipherable enigma because, clearly, that difference can either keep me glued to my seat or have me walking out after I've seen enough...with all due respect to its maker.

I don't think PAGLILITIS is the most important film Cinemalaya has produced but it's probably the most unique precisely because of its intent. Cheers to O'Hara for that. The man has vision.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks Dennis, Mr. Barrister, and Jerrold for joining me in this discourse.

Mr. Barrister, Aguinaldo felt like a non-character in the film. He's there because he's there. It's probably a disservice that no judgment was rendered regarding his involvement with Bonifacio's death, but to do so, would be a disservice to the material, which is precisely pro-Aguinaldo to begin with.

Jerrold, the thing with the films you cited are that they are all designed to be filmed as films. They were adaptations, and required the cinematic touches, as you would put it, to differentiate it from the sources.

Paglilitis on the other hand, has transcripts from the trials and letters as source. O'Hara could have gone straight to adapting these material "cinematically," but instead insisted on fashioning them as a play, and then as a film. And O'Hara did not settle at filming a play, since he would segue staged sequences with more "cinematic" sequences (although still clearly "theatrical" if you mean enunciated acting, the narrator popping in and out, etc.), and some of these "cinematic" sequences are amazing --- as when Gregoria de Jesus, ill inside a shaman's shack, sees will o wisps floating outside, and follows them to discover Andres' body; or the murder scene, where Andres breaks out to plead for his life. Clearly, O'Hara uses theater out of poetry rather than out of laziness or as you say it, unrealized intent.

Cinema of intent, I have a clear problem with that label. Isn't all cinema birthed from intent to begin with? And what is wrong with creating cinema with intent in mind in the first place? Agendas are important, and if style or technique is required, in the artist's mind, to push an agenda, should these pieces of art be relegated as artworks of intent? Isn't all cinema artworks of intent --- intent to relay a story, intent to depict the poor, intent to arouse anger, intent to entertain, etc.? There is cinema, however, that does more than relay a story, or does away totally from telling a story, to elucidate discourse? Clearly, this cinema is not meant to be treated like the rest, but if it can, then well and good.

True, there is a huge difference between film and theater. However, despite these differences, film is not enjoined from utilizing theater for its agenda, whether it be plain narration or something more.

Whether or not O'Hara deserves anything from the jury is beyond us. Prizes are really just that, prizes. However, for sheer audacity, this film deserves to be seen and to be talked about, like what we're doing.

jerrold said...

I never implied that O'Hara was lazy in choosing to go theatrical. If theatricality was his intent and if he shot the film within those parameters, then the man has discipline and craft.

Now I'll concede that the notion of theatricality as cinematic poetry can work. That's fine. We can do whatever we want as long as the intention is clear. I could form a band, compose a concept album with songs that tell a complete narrative, perform the entire album live, record that performance, edit it "artfully" and screen it to audiences and NOT call it a concert movie nor a series of music videos but instead a valid piece of cinema. Stage performance as cinematic poetry. That could work, right? So point taken with regards to PAGLILITIS's theatricality. And you're right in pointing out that O'Hara's source materials were transcripts and letters, which allows him even more freedom to play with style and form.

But that brings us to Cinema of Intent. It was my mistake to borrow Gallaga's term (if it was really his in the first place) without explaining my highly modified definition. As opposed to Gallaga's idea of a film's disparity between its intent, execution and merit, my definition of the phrase is this: works that stand on their own as deliberate experiments on form, style, content and craft—AND the hyperbolic praise cineastes give to such intellectual exercises. We do not connect to these films instinctively. We carry them in our minds, analyze them and equate our capacity to dissect them—their openness to academic discourse—as evidence of the film's greatness. Our own cleverness as proof of the work's merit (like INCEPTION, shall we say?).

Now I'm not against experimentation. My background is experimental music back in college and I loved every minute I spent pushing my own musical boundaries. But Film is our most powerful tool for empathy, for connecting with fellow human beings, and PAGLILITIS does not connect. It just exists as a sealed work. The film may be about our own history but its brazen use of grotesque theatricality—its form and style—is alienating and unnecessarily complex. Perhaps if O'Hara had employed naturalistic acting, it would've given me a way in but even that basic cinematic device has been replaced by the all-encompassing Idea. As a filmgoer, I'm not after ideas. I'm after connections.

So as it is, PAGLILITIS is just a piece of art, a cinematic totem pole, to be looked at and admired.

When I watch films, whether art house, avant garde or commercial, I only have these questions in mind: Does it affect me emotionally? Does it have the capacity to change my life without trying so hard? Or, at the very least, does it take me along on a worthwhile ride or is it asking me to carry its weight for two hours?

Because if it's the latter, then no thanks. Life being what it is, I have so many other things to carry. :-)

Cheers to O'Hara, you and this long-ass discussion. Kape na lang tayo, Oggs! Haha.

Oggs Cruz said...

Sige, kape! My treat!

But before that, my final retort:

I believe Peque's Cinema of Intent came up in his interview for one of the raunchier glossy magazines in the country, where he indicts filmmakers whose works are acclaimed necessarily on intent or personality rather than on actual merit.

See, my problem with Peque's assessment is that he establishes standards on merit, which as we all know, are purely subjective. Sure, a film can be masterfully made, but the standards of let's say Roger Ebert and Andre Bazin would be different, and that ultimately ends the supposed logic of the problems of Peque's Cinema of Intent.

Now, I go to your Cinema of Intent, which you describe as the films where audiences cannot connect instinctively. Surely, this is cultural. Audiences in the Philippines might never connect with the works of Lav Diaz's works or John Torres' works, simply because the styles used immediately become hindrances, but for the French, who were fed with Godard (maybe not present-day Godard) and other directors who we may brandish as directors of films of intent, there is an instinctual effect to think before being pleasured. Are the instinctual pleasures of cinema truly paramount to assess a film's virtues? If that is the case, then why is there so much hoopla regarding the films of Cathy Garcia-Molina and Star Cinema who thrive in such instinctual emotional connections, whether manufactured or not?

But of course, in the end, and to summarize everything with a cop-out on my part, emotional attachment is subjective. I, for one, was deeply affected by O'Hara's portrayal of Bonifacio, and his portrayal of Gregoria de Jesus' sufferings, which I would compare to one of Mizoguchi's famous suffering women in the context of a male-dominated society. But, of course, that's my take on everything.

Cheers to Senior Year!

Anonymous said...

very interesting thread going on here... i've been wanting to see a film that articulates this very often ignored part of philippine history...


Anonymous said...

This discussion proves that Oggs is blind fanatic of Mario O'Hara, as well as he is a fan of Noel Vera. Whatever Noel likes he likes, therefore whoever Noel idolizes he too does.

Oggs wants to abolish Directors Showcase because Paglilitis didn't win a prize and was upstaged by Two Funerals. Who can forget his outburst on his tweets several days ago, now removed. This review of Paglilitis, if anything, is done to spite Gil Portes and hold up O'Hara. Nothing wrong with O'Hara, he is great, but Paglilitis despite its technical accomplishment is badly wanting of good screenplay and naturalistic performances, two things Oggs doesn't want to readily recognize.

Nice seeing some factions who strongly disagree with Oggs view of Paglilitis. It goes on to show the other side of the coin, the side where the jury may have thrived. Is shutting out Paglilitis even a single award a great disservice to the greatness of O'Hara? Probably. But discrediting Cinemalaya for it is very much uncalled for. From Oggs' review, it's very obvious a fan championing an idol, the objectivity flies out the window, so do we expect to take it seriously as bible-truth? Are the jurors anti-O'Hara? I doubt. Two of them are foreigners who don't have anything to do with Philippine cinema, thus may have more objectivity to them, seeing Philpppine cinema from afar. Between the two, Oggs and the Jury, a fan and a group of non-fans respectively, we know who is more credible. Should we heed Oggs' call to abolish Cinemalaya's Directors Showcase category? My answer to it is Donor, the rightfully deserving best film of that category.



Oggs Cruz said...

Thank you Anonymous,

Peace be with you too. Nobody in this space is spewing out words for them to mean bible-truth. As with everything, they're all opinions, and as you've said, outside the realm of objectivity.

Regarding the Director's Showcase --- It has its merits, several of them, in fact. Here, you have a group of veteran filmmakers in the same competition as new filmmakers, who may not have the same clout as the veterans. With them joining the competition, there is some sort of control towards the organizers and the monitoring committees. Experience is what they supposedly offer.

However, what is the point of separating these veterans with the new directors. Is there a marked difference between the quality of the films of the new breed and the director's showcase. Why can't the veterans compete with the new directors? Seriously, what is the point of classifying directors, and hence, classifying their films? What makes three films the barometer for one to "graduate" from the new breed? And what's with the name "director's showcase?" So the new breeds cannot claim the word "director" for themselves?

I am aware that the awards were handed out by a jury (which is composed, as you've mentioned, of 5 personalities, 3 Filipinos (Joey Reyes, Lito Zulueta, and Ricky Davao) and 2 foreigners (Italian and Japanese programmers), and they have their reasons to award whoever. Paglilitis' snub incites me to write about it, champion it, because some wouldn't. As you've mentioned, you think there are problems with the script and the performances. That may be true, but that does not preclude anyone from getting anything, even something to inspire that person to write. Whether or not anyone is a fan of Mario O'Hara, and in all honesty, I admire the artist but I am not at that level of blindly loving every thing he has done, is beside the point.

As for Donor. I agree, it is a good film, Mark Meily's best. I don't know if it justifies the separation of the new directors with the directors who've made three films or more. I see it succeeding if all of these films are lumped together.

I'd invite you to coffee with Jerrold, but you're anonymous, so peace.

Lilit Reyes said...

jerrold, oggs, ehem, over a cup of coffee? BEER, BEER, BEER!

Chard said...

there goes the neighbourhood. milk for me, oggs!

Douglas Racso said...

i agree, ang paglilitis is my fave from the director's showcase, even though it was theatric. hindi ko namalayan kasi namesmerize ako, for me, kakaiba sya, which was a good thing. tsaka, kanya kanyang timpla naman yan ng kape, wag magtapunan eehehhe

raymond said...

sarap basahin ng thread na ito! salamat sa mga nagpost!

agree that literary/theatrical/brechtian devices, especially when used in cinema, usually widen the (emotional) distance between the audience and the material. by calling attention to artifice, perhaps to favor ideas over emotions, intent over story, they reinforce rather than suspend our disbelief, and frustrate our emotional connection to the material.

then how is it possible that this film, much maligned for being theatrical or worse, "a filmed play", left me breathless with so much emotion? seeing paglilitis a second time, i was still (maybe even more) engaged, sensitized, outraged, moved, and by the end, shattered.

i can liken it to my occasional preference for noise over silence when i have to write something, especially when said something is a bitch to write. in these instances silence can be deafening, whereas, in noisy, crowded places i find that i am able to reach, in record time and depth, that inner quiet which i need in order to write.

paglilitis makes grand gestures and speeches when really it is killing you softly with a whisper: the ghosts of our past are ever present. for me at least, this isn't cinema of intent or cinema to admire from a distance. it's magic.

Lilit Reyes said...

all i can say about this film is:


ddanjarden said...

hi po, i'm just a curious observer of this blog and the thread...regarding po sa paglalagay ng "distance of emotional connection of audience" sa film(kung tama po ang pagkakaintindi ko sa pamamagitan ng mga technicalities na nasambit sa mga naunang comments, maaaari po bang (kung sadya na ganoon yung estilo ng pagkakagawa) o posible po ba na ginawa iyon para mabawasan yung personal bias ng mga audience na regarding sa alam nating history na si Aguinaldo ang may pakana ng pagpapapatay kay Bonifacio at sa kapatid nya? ang ibig ko pong sabihin ay ang pelikula po ay ginawa ayon sa pagkakasulat sa kasaysayan pero sinubukan na gawing objective some sort of ang pelikula to balance or not to impose a certain belief of the filmmaker? gets po ba?

honestly po hindi ko po napanood yung pelikula, heto pong tanong ko eh base po sa mga pag uusap dito lamang sa blog na ito. salamat po.
kung mali po yung pinaghuhugutan ng tanong ko eh pasabi nalang po. salamat po ulit=)


Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks Raymond and Lilit for sharing your beautifully written appreciation of the film.

Salamat Dan sa tanong, sa aking opinyon, ang pagsasapelikula ng nasulat na kasaysayan ng administrasyong Aguinaldo tungkol sa paglilitis ni Bonifacio bilang isang dula ay paglalahad ng subjective na paniniwala ng director sa mga nangyari nun. Moro-moro lang ang lahat.

ddanjarden said...

salamat po sir oggs, subukin ko pong panoorin yung pelikula pag may pagkakataong maipalabas muli ito para mas maintindihan ko po ang usapan dito.salamat po ng marami


Anonymous said...

hi i'm another anonymous film buff, very interesting discussions here. i wouldn't want to add more to it, but i wish to make a sort of o.t. comment, just a reminder that there is true indie filmmaking still happening outside of cinemalaya. peace!

Anonymous said...

Sanay na kasi tayo sa THE USUAL film dito at sa nagpapaka-INDI, kung mapapansin mo sa lahat ng film, Ibang -iba ang PAGLILITIS, malayang malaya...

di ako makikipagtalo... pero iba-iba lang talaga tayo ng pinanggagalingan...

michelle encar buen said...

wow very interesting thread :)
i normally dont read comments from blogs.. but your arguments glued me in!

as a film student who watched ang paglilitis and is required to make a critical essay about it.. you guys definitely helped! ;)

kudos to everyone who shared their thoughts. especially to the person who started all of this, the blogger himself.

Amir Muhammad said...

I wanna watch!

Oggs Cruz said...

Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio as a love story:

Noel Vera said...

Thanks for posting that link, oggs.

And you're a saint. I could never be that respectful to a troll; my sense of sarcasm always acts up. It's always been my weakness.

Just an observation on jerrold: the way he describes what he looks for in films (and he describes it very well), I'm guessing the films of Alan Resnais or Robert Bresson or Straub-Huillet don't do much for him.

And that's fine. There is, of course a genre of filmmaking that does insist that the audience put in as much thinking as the filmmakers do, that emotion be kept at a minimum, that intellect is prized above soul, so on and so forth (I'd note that these qualities do not always go together, or appear with equal emphasis in a film). These filmmakers have gone on very happily without popular recognition from most movie viewers. And to be fair, most movie viewers view movies very happily without bothering with these filmmakers.

I do disagree on two points: O'Hara's film craft here is impeccable--the color palette, the mis-en-scene, the editing. The difference is, his stage craft here is also topnotch.

And I do think yes, at this stage in our development, we need to explore every direction we can explore. And considering the kind of melodrama we've been making for the past hundred years, we can certainly do with more, not less, intellect.

And, finally, oggs, you're a saint. I could never be that respectful to a troll; my sense of sarcasm always acts up. It's always been my weakness. Hat off to you for your patience and forbearing.

As for Anonymous, peace on him too.

Anonymous said...

naniniwal ba kayo ni pinapatay ni aguinaldo si bonifacio???

Anonymous said...

Ang paglilitis kay Bonifacio is a beautiful film of its own. The theatrical side is symbolizes the reality of the past and conquer the future. The independent storytelling of the film makes me comfortable in many aspects and take note, Direk Mario O'Hara's working hand satisfy my cold flesh.


Lukas said...

naalala ko lang yung review ni ebert sa kinatay dito sa discussion - yung head vs heart argument. it just goes to show that movies will always be viewed subjectively.

Anonymous said...

Robert Bresson's Trial of Joan of Arc was theatrical and it worked.

Anonymous said...

So what you're saying is the film was being pro-Aguinaldo ironically ? Hmmm. Will have to think about it.

That being said, I think 'Sigwa' owns all these films. If we're talking about historical questions and relevance & continuity across epochs and treatments...

And I also heard that 'Donor' is pretty shoddy in the intent department.

Of course, this thread goes nowhere if none of these are even in theaters for people to decide :)

Anonymous said...

san po ba pdeng mpanood ito n may kasamang script?