Wednesday, September 20, 2017

MM Movie Review: 1898, Los últimos de Filipinas

Given recent events, it is clear that the Kingdom of Spain, like most every other West European country, is suffering from a severe lack of confidence and self-esteem. If this film, titled in English as “1898, Our Last Men in the Philippines”, is any indication of the popular culture it is certainly no surprise. It is the story of the last die-hard holdouts of the Spanish empire who, barricaded in a small church in the village of Baler, held out against a far larger force of besieging Filipino rebels from July 1, 1898 to June 2, 1899. I cannot say how the film did with its intended audience but of the Spanish reviews I read, most were positive though, thankfully, almost as many were quite negative. What we have with “1898, Los últimos de Filipinas” is a gorgeous film that throws historical accuracy out the window in an effort to tow the politically correct line and make the Spanish soldiers look as horrible and nasty as all “evil, European imperialists” are supposed to look today. Yet, do not think that the Filipinos escape unscathed either.

The Spanish return
In many ways, perhaps because the siege of Baler has sometimes been referred to as ‘the Spanish Alamo’ (which is a bit ironic considering the actual Alamo is a Spanish mission) it reminded me of the most recent film version of Texas’ most famous siege in that, in an effort to be liberal and avoid taking your own side in a dispute, the filmmakers went out of their way to portray the defenders in a negative light, yet, in so doing, could not help but portray the besieging force in a negative light as well, in fact making them look worse than the supposedly more patriotic pieces of decades past. Despite portraying the Spanish as the villains of this story, I would think it completely justifiable if The Philippines were to ban this movie as an insult to their people. They still, for most of the movie going masses, come across better than the Spanish but that is only because the public has been taught to accept what is spoon-fed to them and it is clear that the Spanish are the “bad guys”, carrying on the ‘evil European imperialist’ stereotype. However, if you actually think about it for a minute, you will see how the Filipinos should actually find this film even more insulting than a proud, God-fearing Spaniard would.

Teresa, a local 'working girl'
The film begins with a crowd of Filipino rebels making a surprise, nighttime attack on a small Spanish detachment at Baler, massacring all but one of the soldiers. We then take up with the unit that is coming to retake Baler and hold it for the King of Spain. I have heard some talk about the uniforms of the Spanish soldiers being wrong for a start. I am no expert on the subject, but I did think they were slightly off. In the end, it was more noticeable to me how the Spanish soldiers all had disappearing hats. By the end of the film, the two remaining officers still have their caps, but the straw hats of every one of the soldiers have totally vanished. I am sure this was done for the sake of the ‘look’ of the film, but as someone very familiar with exceedingly hot climates, a hat is essential. Anyway, the Spanish soldiers arrive, raise the flag and make contact with the sole survivor of the previous garrison, a bloodthirsty and brutish sergeant named Jimeno (played by Javier Gutierrez) as well as the local Filipino whore named Teresa (played by the very fetching Alexandra Masangkay). She is the only Filipina with a speaking part in the film and she is a whore which, sadly, sets the stage for how the Filipinos will be portrayed in this movie.

The Brother, Captain Morenas & Lt. Cerezo
The Spanish soldiers are led by Captain Enrique de las Morenas (played by Eduard Fernandez) who, in what I have heard is actually a rare bit of accuracy, brought his little dog along with him. Other than that, I doubt there is any similarity at all to the actual historical figure as this character is portrayed as fairly competent but still a rather out-of-his-depth fop. The primary leadership role, however, is that of his second-in-command Lieutenant Martin Cerezo (played by Luis Tosar). He is portrayed as an upright man with something of a death wish. His wife died in Spain, he has nothing to live for and, over the course of the film, seemed to me to be cast in a very fanatical light as someone willing to needlessly sacrifice the lives of his men simply because he feels he has no home to go back to and would prefer to die for his country. The main character, however, is an artistic soldier named Carlos (played by Alvaro Cervantes) who has ‘main character’ magical powers, by which I mean he somehow always manages to just happen to be nearby when important things happen, is talked to by everyone, picked for every important mission and so on. Frankly, it becomes annoying very fast.

I should also add that that the only other officer besides the captain and the lieutenant is the doctor, which is not historically accurate at all and should have been obvious given that the Spanish army was rather notoriously top-heavy with an overabundance of officers compared to the number of enlisted men. In any event, the Spanish take possession of Baler and in quick order are attacked by a large force of Filipino rebels, forcing them back into the church which they had prepared to endure a long siege. Here, again, the historical inaccuracies return as they imply many more Spaniards being killed in battle than was reality. Only a handful of Spanish soldiers (literally 3-5) were killed by the Filipino rebels, the vast majority of casualties coming from disease over the many months in a confined, sweltering space with an insufficiently balanced food supply. The Captain soon falls ill and upon his death is succeeded by Lt. Cerezo who refuses to surrender. They endure the occasional attack as well as one foray outside the church to eliminate a rebel artillery piece but for the most part it is a standoff.

Defending the church
No one comes away from this film looking very good. The Spanish soldiers are shown to be suspicious, discontented and disdainful of their government. They highlight, for example, the stupidity of putting untested, inexperienced troops who have never even fired a weapon into such a position and that the government was incapable of even providing them with shoes that fit. The first is another outright fabrication. Most of the soldiers at Baler were experienced veterans of colonial service and the second is simply silly. Shoes and uniforms that do not fit is a common complaint of armies all over the world. As to the attitude of the soldiers, it is impossible to believe that discipline and a determined defense over such a long period under such grueling conditions could have been maintained if the soldiers were so lacking in patriotic devotion as they are portrayed here. Given their behavior, one constantly expects them to simply shoot the lieutenant, surrender and go home. In fact, the Spanish soldiers were remarkably disciplined and only two men deserted (one of these being portrayed in the film, fairly accurately from what I can recall). However, overall, the portrayal is one of sullen, bickering soldiers who care nothing for the cause they are defending and who have only contempt for their country.

The Roman Catholic Church fares no better. The only religious figure shown (there were actually several) is the missionary Brother Carmelo (played by Karra Elejalde). Here is a man who has devoted his life to the service of God in the most distant and alien lands from his own home. However, in this film he is portrayed as a drug addict who retreats to the cellar to smoke opium from his hidden stash and lament that the Christian Heaven is, I will clean it up a bit and say “crap”, and far inferior to the Muslim Heaven. His only real praise for the Christian religion is that it is preferable to the Buddhist belief in reincarnation since you only have to suffer through one life. He also, before succumbing to disease, allows Carlos to share in his hidden store of opium and so turns him into a drug addict as well which eventually leads to a great deal of agony for Carlos when the supply runs out. The whole sub-plot is insulting and ridiculous as well, as if someone thought that an historical epic about heroism and determination needed to take time out to rip off the plot from “Trainspotting”.

Literally every Filipina in this movie is portrayed as a whore
The Filipinos are also horribly insulted, though safe to say it is rather by accident. The filmmakers obviously intended to show the Filipinos as everything the Spaniards (i.e. “evil European imperialists”) are not. They are free, in touch with nature, simple and sexually liberated. Their commander lounges around with his shirt open and Teresa sings in the rain with one breast exposed. They mock the Spaniards for fighting a war they know is already over, laugh at their sacrifice for a government that has “sold them out” to the villainous United States and they take all of this way too far. In what has to be the most insulting scene of all for Filipinos, the rebels shout to the Spanish in the church that they have local women available for them to enjoy and demonstrate this by having a rebel soldier and a local woman start fornicating in broad daylight right in front of the church so the Spanish inside can watch. The point was, again, to show the Filipinos as liberated natives living in a ‘state of nature’. The effect was to make all the Filipino men and women look like pimps and whores. Again, I am not the absolute expert on the subject but I am pretty damn sure that the Filipinos never used the tactic of, “surrender and you can have sex with our women”. It is hard to imagine anything more degrading than that.

If you look close, they did actually get the flag right.
I should also add that the United States does take a few hits in this movie too, being viewed as the enemy for both sides (the Spanish-America War was fought and ended during the course of the siege). This, however, is something the filmmaker clearly threw in to be politically correct as sticking to the actual facts would have been detrimental to the narrative he was trying to sell. The Americans actually tried to rescue the Spanish soldiers besieged at Baler but did not have much luck. A scouting party they sent in was attacked an massacred by the Filipinos who were, keep in mind, supposed to be allied with the Americans at this time. If, as the film claims, the Filipinos did not hate the Spanish at all (as they constantly claim) but simply wanted them to surrender and go home because the war was over, surely allowing the U.S. military forces to make contact with them would have been an easy way to do it. But, no, though the film does show Carlos, in an effort to go to Manila and report back on the situation, seeing a bunch of dead American soldiers in the jungle. Contrary to popular belief, many Americans wanted nothing to do with The Philippines and the decision to keep the islands and suppress the pro-independence forces happened when Filipino rebels attacked American soldiers before the government had decided what to do. I think I can safely say that no American wishes The Philippines had remained an American Territory. If that had happened, they could be a state by now and the expense of that would be outrageous.

Marching out after finally giving up
Eventually, and in fairness it must be said that the reason shown was historically accurate, the Spanish lieutenant does decide to surrender his post. The Filipino rebels, showing great chivalry and a total lack of animosity, allows the soldiers to depart with their colors and their arms to return to Spain. The problem is, what should be a moment to stir the pride of any patriotic Spaniards, actually amounts to nothing of the sort given the way the film has portrayed everyone. If one accepts the narrative of this movie, one would probably feel nothing but pity at best and contempt at worst for the Spanish soldiers who, led by an unreasonable fanatic, fought, suffered and died for a government that had abandoned them and against people who had no ill-will toward them at all. And imperialism/colonialism, at least when done by western countries, is always bad anyway so defending it is nothing to be proud of. The actors all did their jobs well enough and the movie looks absolutely spectacular, shot on the island of Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa and Equatorial Guinea, the scenery is truly breathtaking. Other than that, the whole thing was downright insulting to the memory of everyone involved, certainly for the tremendously heroic Spanish who endured so much to defend that last patch of ground over which their flag flew, to the Filipinos as well, albeit inadvertently.

Wasted potential
In the end, the audience is also made to think that Lt. Cerezo will be in for big trouble when he gets home for his actions at Baler. Once again, even this final note is a totally false one. The Spanish defenders will all hailed as heroes when they returned to Spain and Lt. Cerezo was decorated with the Cross of St Ferdinand by King Alfonso XIII and died in 1945 having achieved the rank of general. Ultimately, the only positive thing I can say about the message of this film is that it did make me see the parallels between the defenders of Baler and modern-day monarchists. Anything and everything will be said to try to convince you to abandon support for your monarch. You will be told it is a bad cause you are supporting, then that it is a futile cause, that the republic is inevitable, finally you will also be told that your monarch is not worthy of your loyalty, that a “real” monarchist would not support such a monarch anyway, whatever it takes so long as the end result is you abandoning your loyalty and accepting the end of the monarchy. Don’t do it. Be the hold out that never surrenders. This film is disgraceful, I am told there was one made in the 1940’s that may be better but I have not seen it. Instead, stick to the actual history and you will find a story of courage and determination that will inspire you rather than a film like this that can only demoralize.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...