It’s easy to compare Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral to its critically-acclaimed prequel, Heneral Luna. After all, it has been a much-awaited film since its first teaser as a mid-credits scene in Heneral Luna. But be warned: do not go into the theater expecting Goyo to play out like the prequel. While the latter succeeds in uplifting the Filipino spirit through fiery and almost cartoonish passion, Goyo will have you silenced in reflection of the events that you have just watched.
Running for a lengthy two hours and forty minutes, Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral is a slow but breathtaking portrayal of the titular character Gregorio del Pilar and of the events that take place the day after Luna’s death from the first film, ending in the historic Battle of Tirad Pass. Goyo takes a hundred and eighty degree turn from its prequel and shifts its lens from the burning passions of a controversial hero to the inner psyche of a pressured boy with far too much weight on his shoulders.
The cinematography and score of Goyo fall nothing short of extraordinary. Beautiful wide shots of soldiers trekking across the mountains and powerfully emotional close-up shots of the characters succeed in telling the tale of this tragic point in our history. The score elevates the emotions in each scene, and is smartly taken away from some in favor of ambient sound or silence. The actors’ performances are absolutely stellar, bringing together all the elements that make Goyo a worthy narration of important segments of Philippine history, translating these into a well-built film.
Compared to other mainstream Filipino films, though, Goyo takes on a more serious approach to storytelling. Of course, there are still Filipino-trademark comedic moments that land with ease, but these are significantly less than usual. This is another smart decision on Tarog’s part, as it gives the screenplay and the characters more screen time to grow and develop – something rare for mainstream Filipino movies.
Portrayed brilliantly by Paulo Avelino, Goyo isn’t just the pretty-faced, fabled boy hero favored by President Emilio Aguinaldo (Mon Confiado); becoming a general at only 23 years old, the film first depicts him as comfortable, and quite smug, in his popularity. At the beginning of the film, a festival is held in his honor, with Filipinos eager to see him in the flesh and women falling all over themselves just to be seen by him.
As the film progresses, however, we see him begin to internalize the differences between being an honorable soldier and a rule-following dog. In a particularly moving scene, Goyo is forced to reassess his loyalty to Aguinaldo, and throughout the movie we see him struggle with this internal battle between staying within the comfort of his position and fighting for the good of his country.
Goyo brings back the overarching theme of Heneral Luna, asking us if we have placed our loyalty on a person or a principle. Especially in this political climate, the film poses a symbolic yet relevant question to all of us Filipinos: in a scene between Aguinaldo and General Alejandrino (Alvin Anson), the President asks the latter, “si Luna o ako?”
With beautiful imagery and breathtaking cinematography, Goyo criticizes Filipinos’ tendency to support the idolatry of false, incompetent leaders. Because of its complex, three-dimensional characters and screenplay that slowly but surely flows, Goyo will someday be considered a Filipino classic. Director Jerrold Tarog takes a bold step with this film; as compared to its prequel and to other mainstream Filipino movies, it takes on a dark, highly symbolic road, and could easily have failed to make an impact on its audiences.
But part of what makes this movie great is precisely this boldness. Filipino mainstream film has never been this complex, dark, and brooding. It does not end in a hopeful way as Heneral Luna does; it ends with a feeling of helplessness and gloom. It does not shy away from pointing out the cowardice of the Filipinos, which costs the lives of those brave enough to believe in a principle instead of a false idol.
The title goyo is slang for fooled or deceived. During the festival scene, the women gossip among themselves about the trail of broken hearts Goyo has left in every town, warning each other to stay away or “baka ma-Goyo ka niyan.” Just as Goyo was, this movie warns us about the dangers of falling in deceit by false, negligent leaders that fail to serve our nation.
Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral is now showing in cinemas nationwide.