By Pablo A. Tariman, VERA Files
A film like “The Guerilla Is a Poet” can be viewed on many levels.
For those who were not yet born anywhere near the declaration of martial law, the film is an apt introduction to the Marcos era of the 60s and the early 70s and how the political and social milieu of that era affected an Ilocano named Jose Ma. Sison who is better known as one of the founders of the pre-martial law Kabataang Makabayan and later, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
For the record, the filmmakers -- Kiri and Sari Dalena -- were not born on that critical period of the country’s history. But their curiosity and subsequent research allowed them to know people who defied the establishment to fight for something they believed in.
They found an interesting subject in the persona of activist Jose Maria Sison who hails from Cabugao, Ilocos Sur.
And so the filmmakers made a trip to The Netherlands and filmed a reunion that showed the viewers how the activist-turned-revolutionary was doing in that foreign country.
The filming came just in time for Sison’s 74th birthday and his abode was filled with well-wishers. His wife, Juliet de Lima from Bicol, comes into the picture and here you see a couple looking good and unperturbed after decades of political and personal upheavals.
What sort of life did they lead during those decades that saw them living in the mountains, joining an armed group, getting arrested and imprisoned for nine years during the Marcos era and later given a reprieve by the first Aquino era?
The filmmakers attempt to answer this question by going back to Sison’s pre-martial law life and shedding light on his little known life as writer and poet.
Before his incarceration, Sison taught literature at the University of the Philippines. His prison life yielded a book of poetry entitled “Prison and Beyond” which won the Southeast Asia book award the prize for which was personally handed to him by no less than the crown Prince of Thailand in Bangkok.
The filmmakers probably found resonance of the revolutionary’s life in his own poetry like this one entitled, “The Guerilla Is A Poet” a part of which read:
The guerilla is like a poet
Keen to the rustle of leaves
The break of twigs
The ripples of the river
The smell of fire
And the ashes of departure.
The guerilla is like a poet.
He has merged with the trees
The bushes and the rocks
Ambiguous but precise
Well-versed on the law of motion
And master of myriad images.
And so the film unfolds like images from Sison’s poem.
It captures Sison’s childhood in his native Cabugao town and peaks as he gets involved with activist groups to the time he got so famous he was actually rubbing elbows with the likes of Ninoy Aquino who is the political nemesis of the Marcoses.
When he gets arrested, the film shows a sequence where Marcos and his loyal guardian, Fabian Ver, get to talk to Sison who vows never to give in to what he perceives as a corrupt political establishment
In the course of the film, some famous personalities enter into the picture namely Bernabe Buscayno who is a high-ranking official of the New People’s Army, a Major Aure who is accused of torturing a woman political detainee and PMA graduate Victor Corpuz (portrayed by Marcus Madrigal) who raided the PMA arsenal before joining Sison in the mountains.
As it is, the film yields images from the underground and shows with stark realism what militant guerillas go through.
Angeli Bayani as Sison’s wife, Juliet, delivers a solid and sensitive performance that revealed her fully grounded on her character’s vulnerability. The image and sound of former president Marcos found exact replica in the superb performance of Willie Nepomuceno. The film has a reliable acting ensemble consisting of Jao Mapa (as Ninoy Aquino), Anthony Falcon, Bong Cabrera, RK Bagatsing , Chanel Latorre, Lehner Mendoza, Lui Quiambao-Manansala, Jes Evardone and Raymond Bagatsing,
As for Karl Medina, who won the best actor award as the young Sison, he has deep character etched all over his face and easily captured Sison as the young writer and poet. Relatively new in the field, his acting has limited facets but succeeds in showing little glimpses into the psyche of the young revolutionary. This actor holds a lot of promise and can transcend his limitations with more subsequent acting exposures.
With so many controversial characters in the film, the Dalenas, however, managed to produce a cohesive film with distinct comfortable boundaries between reportage and propaganda.
The cinematography, for one, was magical and the music of Deodato Arellano complemented it while capturing the tension pervading among the protagonists of the film.
Sison many not fit into your kind of role model but his life was certainly one devoted to exposing the abuses and bankruptcy of the system.
The film showed that Sison led a tough and difficult life as family man and revolutionary.
Whatever your impression is, there is no doubt that the Dalenas managed to humanize a public figure both admired and ostracized for his ideology.
The film ends on a poetic note with images and recited passage from his 1968 poem –
The guerilla is like a poet.
He moves with the green brown multitude
In bush burning with red flowers
That crown and hearten all
Swarming the terrain as a flood
Marching at last against the stronghold.
An endless movement of strength.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true”.)
(“The Guerilla Is A Poet” is part of the ongoing CineFilipino film festival spearheaded by PLDT-Smart Foundation, MediaQuest, Studio 5 and Unitel Entertainment. It will end on September 24 along with other entries namely Mes de Guzman’s Ang Kwento Ni Mabuti, Ato Bautista’s Mga Alaala Ng Tag-Ulan , Sigrid Andrea Bernardo’s Ang Huling Cha-cha Ni Byron, “Ron” Bryant’s Bingoleras, Miguel “Mike” Alcazaren’s Puti (Achromatopsia), Janice Perez’s The Muses and Randolph Longjas’s Ang Turkey Man Ay Pabo Rin.)