Lest we forget: An ‘El Presidente’ review

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They say those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

“El Presidente” is packed full with raw images and scenes that remind us of a storied past. This way, it shows us how we can skip the landmines and stride towards the future.

The film, graded A by the Cinema Evaluation Board (CEB) spans decades – from the boyhood of Emilio Aguinaldo, first president of the Philippines, to the time of his death at age 94.

So you need almost three hours of your time to watch this epic film from start to finish.

Thanks to award-winning director Mark Meily, actors E.R. Ejercito as Aguinaldo, Cesar Montano, Christopher de Leon and Baron Geisler, the film is worth the long hours in the movie house. Sadly, Nora Aunor’s (as Aguinaldo’s second wife) few scenes towards the end fail to explore the breadth and depth of her acting prowess.

Fact is, the film is about Aguinaldo. And no one – not even his two wives (the first is played by Cristine Reyes), not even the mercurial Andres Bonifacio (Montano) and his confrontation scenes with Aguinaldo, can steal the spotlight from El Presidente himself.

The 'real' Aguinaldo

The film shows a man -- pained and patriotic. Yes, he is capable of great deeds. He was responsible for the creation of the Philippine flag, the National Anthem, and the first Philippine Constitution. He united regional factions in the name of independence.

But he’s still human. Yes, he is glorified. But the film shows him warts and all. Highly-charged scenes show Aguinaldo going down on his knees to break down and control of his emotions. He gets sick like you and me.

That’s when Aguinaldo – like you and me again – must be understood. A man awash with dreams of independence for his country can only take so much.

Yes, he can marshall thousands of soldiers to obey orders in the heat of battle. But the trusting El Presidente can also be fooled by wolves in sheep’s clothing, especially those who lust for the power he has.

That’s where the nth history lesson comes in. Know your friends and your enemies. Not doing so can cost you everything you hold dear.

So you think Bonifacio and General Antonio Luna are up there on a pedestal? Not so, the film tells you in your face.

In the film, as it is in real life, the not-so-good eggs prove no match to things pure and true.

Nothing – and no one – succeeded in robbing Agunaldo of his destiny, as an old woman he showed kindness to as a boy, once foretold.

A place in history

The film shows that a man with a soft spot for the poor like Aguinaldo, is rewarded with long life, and a lofty place in the annals of Philippine history.

What more fitting way to bring home this point than through an old lady who has seen and felt much? Who knows a good soul when she sees one?

More than its breathtaking cinematography, well-choreographed fight scenes, haunting music and brilliant acting, “El Presidente” is about the triumph of good over evil. Even if it shows ugly faces of war and betrayal, the film extols the heart – a heart for the country and one’s fellowman.

In the end. that’s what makes a world of a difference.

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