It was only a few hours ago when the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP) announced via its director Leo Martinez that Jerrold Tarog’s film “Heneral Luna“ is the Philippine submission for the 88th Academy Awards. It’s first time for director Tarog whose film tells the tale of underrated Filipino hero Antonio Luna in his quest to lead the country against the Spanish colonizers during Emilio Aguinaldo’s regime.
As per Marinel Cruz of Inquirer, “Heneral Luna” beats out five other contenders including Brillante Mendoza’s Un Ceratin Regard entry this year “Taklub” and Carlos Siguion Reyna’s multiple Cinemalaya winner last year “Hari ng Tondo.”
The journey of “Heneral Luna” is really impressive to say the least. The film opened up to decent numbers but the strong word of mouth particularly in social media paved the way for more cinemas to bring it back to more screens. As a matter of fact, its second week opening day was way higher than its initial first day grosses. It has received raves one after the other with critics praising its polished direction, great ensemble headed by John Arcilla in a career-best role and the different treatment it used as compared to the other biopics about our Filipino heroes.
Now less than two weeks after it opened, its now the Oscar submission of the country representing it in the world platform against more than 70 countries in the world. It’s also the first time the Philippines submitted a film about one of its heroes in the 27 times that we have sent a bid at the Oscars. It’s a bittersweet feeling for everyone in the film involved as well as its fans, and the announcement of it as the country’s submission was met with such enthusiasm and clamor.
But now, let’s talk about the real deal. How will it fare at the Oscar race this year? Just like how I predicted that both “Bwakaw“ and “Transit” aren’t going anywhere or that “Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan“ can count a top nine inclusion at most, it’s time to analyze Heneral Luna‘s chances. When I wrote about my usual Oscar submission analysis and recommendations a month ago, I specified how this is a year when we’re lacking that ecstatic contender that can bring us at least that much-awaited Oscar attention. And now a month later, I still think stand with the same sentiment.
As for starters, this year shapes up as a stacked group of submissions by far from Oscar-friendlier countries. Portugal went with the Cannes movie “Arabian Nights Part 2″ by Miguel Gomez while Hungary is close to have that Oscar wrapped up already with its entry Laszlo Nemes’ “Son of Saul” which won the Grand Prize Jury earlier this year at Cannes. There’s also “Embrace the Serpent” from Colombia, “The Second Mother” from Brazil, and Un Certain Regard winner “Rams” from Iceland. Among Asian contenders, Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s comeback film “The Assassin” leads the pack. Not only are they miles ahead from Heneral Luna in terms of festival buzz, but they all have US distributors already who will campaign the hell out of them. Maybe Heneral can still hop in a competent enough distributor (FWIW, announcement was only made a few hours ago so it’s not as if they’re already on full gear with their campaign plan).
Another thing blocking Heneral Luna‘s way is that its theme isn’t really the Academy’s cup of tea. For Oscar, it’s Holocaust or bust. I’ve read some comments how the portrayal of Americans in the movie would pick up interest among the voters, and that point is pushing it. Antonio Luna, probably as underrated as he is, doesn’t bring the same type of buzz as let’s say if it was a Jose Rizal biopic (which isn’t the film’s fault). The film’s biggest hurdle is that it needs to be seen in order to be voted. It’s really not safe to count on the “plus three” system of the executive system (those that don’t get in the popular vote) especially since it’s reserved for quirky and non-traditional films that aren’t really Academy friendly (think of Dogtooth or An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker). Heck, even Lav Diaz’ Norte last year didn’t get in the plus three system and that has the Cannes buzz surrounding it.
Heneral Luna is a great film — no doubt about that, but all its Oscar talk about it “as our shot at winning an Academy Award” or even that “we have a chance” is setting themselves up for disappointment. And let it be clear that it’s not because of its quality. It’s a well-made film that deserves to be seen by every Filipino. Period. But if we are to talk about the aspect of it being our Academy Award submission, then it’s a different story altogether. If anything, the greatest thing that comes with this announcement (aside from recognition for the team behind the movie) is that it shows that the Filipino audience is willing to show up for quality films. Forget about Oscars, it’s a long shot at best.
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