Review: “ Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo”
by Pablo A. Tariman
        History is a tricky path to tread on for filmmakers.
        Either they bombard the viewers with historical facts or choose a point of view that is neither appealing nor sensible to history buffs and plain moviegoers.

An epic  scene from Enzo Williams' "Andres Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo

An epic  scene from Enzo Williams’ “Andres Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo

        The late filmmaker, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, did a film on Jose Rizal in the late 90s and it became a runaway winner in the awards night. To top it all, it became a blockbuster which is a virtual miracle for films dealing with history.
        Historical subjects advertised as period film usually spell doom at the box office but Abaya proved to one and all that passion and dedication — with all the right people working for  her — can make a big difference and can make a killing at the box office.
        The memory of Abaya’s “Jose Rizal” comes to mind as one watched Enzo Williams’ “Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo.”
        There is no comparison of course in terms of production design, direction, film scoring and the like.
        Abaya’s  “Jose Rizal” is grand opera and every frame had the power of a well-rendered aria.
        “Bonifacio” – even with limited budget – managed to look grand as it dwells on the life of the founder of the Katipunan.
        “Bonifacio” has clear focus — uncluttered as it is on what it wants to say about the life of Bonifacio.
        The result is not about a national hero but about a simple human being trying to do his best for his country.
        You see that he is a good brother to his sister whose welfare he is concerned and in some scenes, you see how guilt-ridden he was as he grappled with the death of his only son.
        Director Enzo Williams knows only too well that one of the ways to examine history is by going to a museum and finding out as much as he can about his subject.
        Thus the film begins with a group of students (Joaquin (Daniel Padilla) and Andrea (Jasmine Curtis) visiting the Katipunan Museum in San Juan and ended up learning a lot from the inputs of the  museum curator played by Eddie Garcia.
        The story goes back and forth from the museum to those tragic dates in history.
        For once, the film gives the young people a chance to know a great man from the pages of history. It is a device that works as it links the present generation to that crucial decade in Philippine history.

The wedding scene of Andres Bonifacio (Robin Padilla) and Gregoria de Jesus (Vina Morales).

The wedding scene of Andres Bonifacio (Robin Padilla) and Gregoria de Jesus (Vina Morales).

        Hence for more than an hour and a half, you get to reflect on the life of Bonifacio and the other equally heroic figures in Philippine history such as Melchora Aquino, Jose Rizal (Jericho Rosales) and Gregoria de Jesus (Vina Morales)and Ladislaw Diwa (Ping Medina), among others.
        On the whole, the script written by Williams, Carlo Obispo and Keiko Aquino is a cohesive lot and leaves out tedious moments that often plague films dealing with history.
        The production design of Roy Lachica hewed closely to the generation of the subject and film scorer Von de Guzman gave the film an aural feel that connected two generations of Filipinos.
        This is one’s first sampling of an Enzo Williams film and one must say that the director surpassed one’s expectations.
        For one, he is a good storyteller and he is in command of other cinematic devices that will make his output rewarding for both the cast and audiences.
        Morales as Gregoria de Jesus etched a fairly well-defined portrait of Bonifacio’s wife and to one’s relief, there is more semblance of natural acting in Padilla’s portrayal of Bonifacio. That perennial scowl served his character and the way he interacted with the other heroes of the Katipunan gave his viewers his ability to blend with his excellent supporting cast consisting of Joem Bascon, Jun-Jun Quintana (as Bonifacio’s brother, Procopio), Cholo Barretto, Isabel Oli, RJ Padilla, Richard Quan, Isko Moreno (as Padre Jose Burgos), Rommel Padilla and Dennis Marasigan, Jericho Rosales (as Jose Rizal) and Miguel Faustman and Kuya Manzano (as the friars).

Poster of "Andres Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo

Poster of “Andres Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo

        On the whole, it was a great pleasure watching a humanized version of “Bonifacio” and what he did for the Filipinos.
        The fate of Bonifacio and his brother is indeed a clear example of revolutions “devouring its own sons” and it ended with the viewers having a good idea as to who are the real heroes and villains of that revolution.
        One must say the film is deserving of its major awards and here’s hoping it does better in the box office.
        A film like “Bonifacio” is one of the saving graces of this festival which is no stranger to controversies.
        It proves that history can do well with regular moviegoers with a well-packaged festival entry.
        Needless to say one looks forward to other Enzo Williams output.
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