Andres Bonifacio died a hero, which everybody knows, and the facts leading up to that are, well, sketchy. Therefore the decision to produce a historical drama about Bonifacio takes a certain amount of courage given that he is often the center of debates, one of which includes: is he really the first president of the republic of the Philippines?
Directed by Enzo Williams, Bonifaco: Ang Unang Pangulo opens with the execution of Gomez, Zamora, and Burgos (Isko Moreno) by garotte, the martyr priests of the 1872 Cavite mutiny. A young Andres was among the crowd that witnessed the live public execution and we see him pick up a handkerchief. Years later, the handkerchief will appear again as a memento, a confirmation of Bonifacio’s willingness to pursue freedom through a revolution.
The film thrives in a story untold in our history books –on how Bonifacio sparked courage in Filipinos, led the revolution, prioritized the country instead of his family, tried to bring back peace and freedom deprived by the Spaniards only to be killed later on by his fellows in KKK who saw him as a potential threat.
Tossing in the historical and present timelines, with Robin Padilla and Daniel Padilla leading each respectively, the film boasts with visually engaging cinematography, capturing mostly wide shot angles with vivid colors and lighting, backed by an engaging musical scoring. The acting chops of the cast however is a mixed case.
Robin Padilla implements restrained acting for his portrayal of Andres Bonifacio but his iconic Padilla walk and stance becomes prevalent and some of the lines he threw also felt like a declamation piece, too theatrical for its own good. Meanwhile Vina Morales was endearing as the lovely, strong, and sympathetic Gregoria “Oryang” de Jesus, Andres’ wife. Robin and Vina’s characters work best when they are together, eliciting on-screen chemistry that provides balance to the heavy theme it tackles.
Daniel Padilla’s exposure here is limited as a graduating student with unselfish motives, his acting is controlled, barely smiling or showing any expression. Explaining majority of the historical inaccuracy is Eddie Garcia, the keeper of the museum wherein Daniel and his classmates Jasmine Curtis-Smith and RJ Padilla stay to discover the truths of the past. The modern day timeline helped define as to whom the film is intended. It helped stitch the narratives of the past to enlighten the present day students.
To those looking for a more in depth exploration of the idea that the film proposes, this might be a letdown. One problem may be that after a long, steady build-up, instead of providing climax, it gives irony. Do we want to know more about Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo and the history and political injustices behind them? Yes, definitely, but that’s not how things turned out. I guess much of the fascination with this film is inspired by the unveiling of the truth, unclearly seen but there isn’t a whole lot of plot.
Overall, Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo is an audio-visual entertaining picture, no doubt about that. The technical details are a cut above the rest. And while it feels like it played safe on spilling the details of the past, it is still a good start to spark interest on history among the young audience.