Jose Rizal: A Great Filipino Movie

Rizal (Cesar Montano) in prison
Rizal (Cesar Montano) in prison | Source

Of all the films produced on the life of Philippine national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, the 1998 version of the late Filipino director Marilou Diaz-Abaya is the best that I have ever seen. After watching it once in the cinema, I just had to buy the DVD!

About Rizal

Although some of my fellow Filipino hubbers have already written extensively about Rizal (plus there is much material on him online), let me just as well provide my foreign readers a brief bio on him. Living in the 19th century, Rizal was a genius, educated both in Manila and Europe. He was a physician by profession and remarkably cured his own mother of her eye ailment. Accused of subversion, Rizal aimed only at seeking equal rights and freedom of speech for his fellow natives.

As a writer, he wrote two novels - Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo (I enjoyed studying these novels which are required readings for Filipino high school students.). These had a revolutionary theme that exposed much of the corruption of the ruling Spaniards. It was these literary works that caused the ire of the government and clergy, and they later arrested, incarcerated and executed Rizal.

The original cover of "Noli Me Tangere" (circa 1887)
The original cover of "Noli Me Tangere" (circa 1887) | Source

The director-co-producer

One of the more celebrated filmmakers in Philippine cinema, Abaya has definitely outdone herself in this film. I highly commend her for coming up with a superb production at par with international standards.

Having obtained an estimated budget of 80 million Philippine pesos (making Jose Rizal one of the most expensive Filipino movies ever produced), Abaya has brought out the best in cinematography, skillfully weaving into it the elements of setting, costumes and screenplay. I am impressed by her crew's extensive research on Rizal's biography, as everything that I have seen onscreen is historically true (at least based on what I have studied in school).

Worth noting is how Abaya and her staff produced a late 19th century setting in the Philippines. I admire how these details are evident in the props and the elaborate costumes worn by the Filipinas donned in their Maria Clara gowns (also the Philippine national attire for women).

On the storyline, Abaya masterfully intersperses with Jose Rizal's life - presented in flashbacks from the time of the hero's imprisonment in Fort Santiago - excerpts from Noli and Fili. She does this by showing the fiction scenes in black and white, thus distinguishing them from the real events.

A brief tribute to the late Marilou Diaz-Abaya

My favorite scenes

While I agree that the highlights of the movie are the courtroom scene where Rizal makes his defense, and the execution scene at Bagumbayan, there are other scenes more memorable to me. I found most amusing the scene of the anatomy class where Rizal sits in with the Spanish and Filipino male students. When the Spanish Tomasite professor and a tall Spanish pupil mock the shorter Filipinos in claiming that height is a symbol of Spain's superiority over the Philippines, Rizal boldly stands up to question why Spain is losing some of her colonies to natives who are even shorter. This causes the Filipinos in class to burst out laughing.

Then, there is the scene of the ophthalmology class at Madrid's central university where Rizal impresses both his professor and classmates with his explanation of the functions of the ocular muscles.

Lastly, the scene where Rizal and his Fili protagonist Simoun (who is actually Rizal's alter ego) come face to face is a dramatic moment. Here, the latter tempts the former to change the climax of the story. I found this an intelligent concept of Abaya who had inserted this scene on the night before Rizal's execution.

I die without seeing the sun rise on my country. You who are to see the dawn, welcome it, and do not forget those who fell during the night!

— Dr. Jose Rizal, from “Noli Me Tangere”, as translated in English by the late Leon Maria Guerrero III
The Rizal monument at Rizal Park in Manila. This is the site where he was executed.
The Rizal monument at Rizal Park in Manila. This is the site where he was executed. | Source

Cesar Montano

I wondered at first why Abaya had chosen Cesar Montano to play the title role. Montano is known in Philippine cinema for his roles in action flicks.

But after watching him perform, I suddenly had a change of opinion. Montano stunned me with his great ability to speak fluent Spanish. He likewise charmed me with his dignified demeanor in the scene where Rizal delivers a speech before his male compatriots at Hotel Ingles in Madrid.

Indeed, Montano's brilliant portrayal of Rizal has won the nod of foreign filmmakers, thus making him land a role in the Hollywood film The Great Raid.

Watching Jose Rizal - which has garnered both local and international awards - is like watching a Hollywood blockbuster movie. With a screenplay excellently written in profound Tagalog, this film makes me proud of the Filipino artist, as I see how Abaya and Montano have truly given the best of themselves.

The film is definitely a must-see for history buffs. Not that I mean to sound nationalistic, but I am just proud that the late Abaya and Montano have successfully put the Philippines on the movie map.

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Nancy Hardin profile image

Nancy Hardin 2 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

Jose Rizal was a great man who stood for what he believed, even unto death. The Philippine people are rightfully proud of him. This will go on my FB page Hand in Glove With History and on my blog. Thank you for sharing his story.

LornsA178 profile image

LornsA178 2 years ago

Thanks for writing about Rizal and for sharing this movie, I would like to watch the full picture soon. Great job!

Lyra Kua profile image

Lyra Kua 2 years ago

I agree that this is a great movie about the life of our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. I especially love the scene when the character of Simoun confronts Rizal in his cell which led Rizal to change the climax of the book. Although I love story of El Filibusterismo, I find the ending to be sad and tragic.

Charito1962 profile image

Charito1962 2 years ago from Manila, Philippines Author

@LornsA178: Thanks!

asereht1970 profile image

asereht1970 2 years ago

I had also watch this movie and I agree that Cesar played his role very well. The movie was a hit and schools here in Tarlac even required the students to watch it. Great review, Madam!

Charito1962 profile image

Charito1962 2 years ago from Manila, Philippines Author

@asereht1970: Thanks, kababayan!

yayang0405 lm profile image

yayang0405 lm 2 years ago

I had seen this movie too and I agree that this version is the best among Jose Rizal movie I have watched.

Charito1962 profile image

Charito1962 2 years ago from Manila, Philippines Author

@yayang0405 lm: That's good to know.

Thelma Alberts profile image

Thelma Alberts 13 months ago from Germany

Wow! This is great. I would love to see this movie. Thanks for sharing. Happy weekend!

Charito1962 profile image

Charito1962 13 months ago from Manila, Philippines Author

Hi, Thelma! Thanks for stopping by! Yes, I hope you get to watch this quality film.

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    Charito1962 profile image

    Charito Maranan-Montecillo (Charito1962)332 Followers
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    Ms. Charito is a Filipino based in Manila. She has worked as an executive assistant and a journalist. She is a widow with a grown-up son.

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