Baler: Huli sa Balita

The anniversary of the Siege of Baler is celebrated on June 30. Who knew?

baler1Three cheers for the 110th anniversary of the Siege of Baler. We celebrate it on June 30 every year. Who knew?

Beautiful and remote Baler in Aurora was the site of the last face-off between a handful of stubborn Spanish soldiers who refused to surrender and the Filipino rebels who waited around for the Spaniards to give up. Those tenacious dudes only surrendered when their commanding officer Lt. Saturnino Martin Cerezo saw the newspapers and read that according to the 1898 Treaty of Paris, Spain had ceded the Philippines to the United States. After 337 days inside a dank church, riddled with death and disease, with little food and water–they Spanish said Okay, fine. Party's over, boys. Time to go home.

Sounds epic, doesn't it? Director Mark MeilyBaler apparently thought so. His 2008 film is a romantic period piece set against the drama of the last days of Spanish sovereignty in the Philippines. Celso (Jericho Rosales) and Feliza (Anne Curtis) are two young lovers on each side of the war–he a mestizo soldier, and she a true blue dalagang bukid. The two meet in secret because the gentle Feliza's father Daniel is an angry, anti-Spanish farmer/revolutionary (played with old school melodramatic flair by the semi-retired Phillip Salvador). When the shit hits the fan–so to speak–Celso has to seek refuge in the old church along with the Spanish, while Feliza's father and other Filipino soldiers surround the church and begin their long wait. Something must be said for the sheer bravado of the losing Spanish, but I guess after three hundred years of colonial rule the Filipinos weren't having any more of it. What's another eleven months?

I had high hopes for this movie. At last year's Metro Manila Film Festival, Baler was the big winner with awards for direction, screenplay (Roy C. Iglesias), cinematography (Lee Meily), editing (Danny Anonuevo), and production design (Aped Santos). Plus the lovely Anne Curtis won Best Actress (I'm not a fan, but hey, she had to cry a lot, give birth, and do a tepid love scene--okay for her caliber) and Phillip Salvador (looking a bit BoTox-ed) won Best Supporting Actor. All in all, nicely done. The film–which is indeed well shot, technically polished, and correct in almost all the right places (the film score is exceptionally annoying and omnipresent)–is a good example of how high the standards should be for relatively big budget, studio-backed films.

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Maybe the public is ready for quality movies made with obvious care, world class skill, and compelling content. Maybe it's possible that the public is sick of the slapdash and stupid.

Mark Meily was recently at the IndioBravo Filipino Film Festival held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York for a screening of Baler. Sighting the success of directors like Brilliante Mendoza and his win at Cannes, Meily says it's a good start for a lot of young film makers. "A lot of good things are coming out from Philippine cinema right now," says the affable looking Meily, who fairly reeks of nice guy. I think it's true.

So I'm honoring all the brave souls who died at the siege of Baler as well as those who were strong enough to survive the last long winded battle for our nation's freedom. From them I'm learning that if you hang in there long enough, something good will come out of the mess.

Baler is available on DVD.

To read Ria's previous blog posts, click here.

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