THE GUERRILLA IS A POET (Sari and Kiri Dalena, 2013)
After seeing THE GUERRILLA IS A POET, the new film by sisters Sari and Kiri Dalena, whatever your stand may be on communism, what's certain is that Jose Maria Sison, or JoMa Sison, or Amado Guerrero (his war name) is indeed an ordinary man who dreams, who loves, and who fights, but whose extraordinary achievements imparted a constant reminder to Ferdinand Marcos during Martial Law that his tyranny shall not go unchallenged.
At almost two and a half hours, GUERRILLA constantly makes for an uneasy watch; its subject overtly serious and heavy. From the time of JoMa's childhood up to his and his wife, Julieta De Lima's exile in The Netherlands, the film broadens the history, making a parallel between JoMa the revolutionary and JoMa the poet- which actually are one and the same, because traces of rage are present in JoMa's literature.
The use of docudrama may be distracting at times, appearing propagandist even, yet there are moments of candidness during the interview of JoMa and snippets of his wife, Julie that provide for cinematic honesty. Sari and Kiri Dalena knew which sound bytes to include for maximum jugular impact. Also, the documentary element of the film comes as a breather especially during the arduous mountain scenes of the revolutionaries.
One thing is for certain: it is really quite hard to survive in the mountains whilst being pursued by soldiers, more so if you have a baby on the way.
The film features breathtaking cinematography, especially during the closing montage. Karl Medina is unflinching as JoMa, yet there exists a deviation from character because we see the real JoMa side by side with Medina's portrayal of JoMa, and the differences are numerous: for one, the real JoMa happens to be a jolly fellow (or maybe that came in his later years?)
Angeli Bayani as Julie De Lima provides strong support to Medina's JoMa. As the wife of probably the most wanted man in the Philippines under Martial Law, Bayani exhibits restraint under pressure.
Perhaps the strongest performance of the film, and underrated at that, is that of Anthony Falcon as fellow revolutionary leader Bernabe Buscayno AKA Kumander Dante. Every line uttered by Falcon is with great conviction, and you believe he really is who he says he is- a revolutionary from the mountains. Falcon may be remembered for another noteworthy performance last year, as the transgender Joanna in the Cinemalaya hit REQUIEME!, directed by Loy Arcenas.
Meanwhile I found Chanel Latorre's acting somewhat excessive, perhaps too conscious. As another revolutionary, Latorre borders into overacting, similar to her portrayal of the girlfriend character in Jason Paul Laxamana's BABAGWA.
A surprise inclusion of a well-known character satirist portraying here a well-known figure is a major plus. Also, Raymond Bagatsing, in his brief onscreen appearance as a torturer is pure gravity. The torture/interrogation scene was perhaps one of the film's best moments.
THE GUERRILLA IS A POET achieves an epic scope of a story told in the grassroots manner, perhaps manifesting that wars are both external and internal, and that there really is no difference between a bloody revolution, and a silent protest so long as the aim is achieved. The film's unnecessary pitfall is bordering on propaganda, but once you can get past that (if you can) the film offers a rich portrait of a man so weighed down with countless beatings in his life and yet manages to look forward to the future. In the end, it really boils down to the pain of not being able to return to your homeland which you so dearly fought for with all your life.