Watching Mike de Leon’s “Bayaning Third World” somehow reminds me of “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank.” The idea behind both movies seems to be parallel, although Bayaning Third World certainly has an extended envelope for its having a more serious concern. The shared idea is the filming of the (arduous) process of film-making. However, there is another slight but vital difference that must be cited. Whereas “Septic Tank” shows the actual process of doing a film – from meeting with prospective lead actors and shooting scenes – Bayaning Third World dwells on perhaps the more painstaking, if not excruciating process of conceptualizing a film. And with the latter opting to burden itself with the ‘heroism’ of Jose Rizal, it was able to make subtle comments not only on the process of filmmaking but also on the life and legacy of Rizal-the-National-Hero and how succeeding generations have come to grasp and shape their own idea of him.
Ricky Davao and Cris Villanueva cutely played the role of the two people working on the supposed film on Rizal.
Right at the onset, they were figuring things about the angle and focus of the film until they, perhaps inevitably, came to debate on certain issues surrounding Rizal’s highly storied life – from his involvement with Josephine Bracken to his alleged retraction of everything he has written in order to ‘return’ to the Church. In a suggestive mishmashing of temporal planes, the two filmmakers took turns in interviewing the people who know a lot of things about Rizal. They interviewed Rizal’s mother, Teodora Alonso, his two sisters, Narcisa and Trining, Josephine Bracken and Father Balaguer. Each character provides a specific, if not expedient angle in understanding Rizal. Notably evident is the repulse of both Teodora Alonso and Trinign towards Josephine and Josephine’s lament on how she is usually construed as the disgrace to the National hero. On his part, Father Balaguer’s account revolved principally on Rizal’s ‘retraction’ on night before he was shot at Bagumbayan.
Most telling though is the two filmmakers’ encounter with Rizal himself, played by Joel Torre. They tried to get it straight from the hero, tried to clarify the gray issues that can help them proceed on their movie with a clearer concept of Rizal. But Rizal only made it more problematic for them, refusing to shed any illumination. To the shock of both filmmakers’ Rizal lighted a cigarette and smoked, contrasting with the Rizal they have in mind. One of them also commented on Rizal’s shoddiness, as if he is not a hero. This is the point where Rizal vented his reasonable disappointment perhaps not only to the filmmakers but to the entire community hailing him as ‘their’ hero.
“Nabasa niyo na ang lahat ng naisulat at sinabi tungkol sa akin pero hanggang ngayon hindi niyo pa rin ako kilala.”
Because Rizal is already dead and the Rizal that we have now are the Rizals of popular media, of government-issued textbooks and varied ‘historical’ accounts?
Because the Rizal that we know is the Rizal who wrote El Filibusterismo and Noli Me Tangere and our approach to both is limited only to interpretation and not full illumination?
The filmmakers would retort: Hindi mo na mababago ang itinakda ng tadhana! (I find this a bit ironic because at some points of the film, both filmmakers were hinting little admiration, if not respect for Rizal. The scene where the title was uttered involves Ricky Davao intentionally breaking a small Rizal sculpture in their room: marupok na bayani, Bayaning Third World…)
Joel-Torre-as-Rizal: Mababago pa ang itinakda ng tao!
This precisely prepares the somewhat unsurprising conclusion of the film: Kanya-kanyang Rizal. While those who tend to glorify Bonifacio more than Rizal will less likely see Rizal’s contributions than push for his supposed discouragement of the Katipunan revolution, there are those who will tend to see Rizal as the initiator of that same Revolution courtesy of his two novels. And definitely we cannot forget that the social institutions are mainly for Rizal. The Rizal subject mandated in every tertiary school is one good proof of this bias. So: kanya-kanyang Rizal, then so be it?
At the end, I refuse to see this conclusion as akin to the contemporary mold, certainly influenced by the post-structural and the postmodern, which begins to appear to me as more of a lazy resolution for the hypothetical things. Kanya-kanyang pagtingin na lang can always be argued to carry a particularly relativistic tone. How am I choosing to view how the Rizal ‘problem’ was tackled by this film by de Leon is by conferring much hope on its non-suggestion of a deadlock. A deadlock as if: okay, kanya-kanya na lang, tapos na. In other words, I want to look at the film as an intricate performance; I want to think that underlying it is the subtle intent to elicit further thinking. Both this performance and this elicitation to further thinking are necessary because ‘Rizal’ is an important part of our discourse. Rizal is an important part of our ‘national’ consciousness, of how we view ourselves as a Filipino, and of how we understand the past of our-country-the-Philippines. Or if we wish to stick with the post-structural notion of the ‘nation,’ we can always begin from it in order to debunk it. Because if the ‘nation’ is imagined, then all members of the community should be part of its imagination, of its construal and eventually its enactment. And if we want this ideal, then everyone should be welcomed, encouraged even, to partake in this ‘nation’-building, both in the more abstract and the practical sense. It is after these overarching principle that I am choosing to view de Leon’s Bayaning Third World: Rizal is a discourse important to this nation, and so we must grapple with him as an idea, if only that can make us grapple as well with who we are as Filipinos and what has happened, is happening and should be happening to our country/nation that is called the Philippines.