Jose Rizal: A Great Filipino Movie
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!
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.
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
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.