By Rianne Hill Soriano
Posted on 05:52 PM, September 19, 2013
The Guerrilla is a Poet
Directed by Sari and Kiri Dalena
THE Guerrilla is a Poet — an entry in the feature-length film competition of the CineFilipino Film Festival 2013 — is a very intimate docudrama about a Filipino activist’s journey during a time of deep political turmoil.
Primarily set during the turbulent years of the Marcos regime, this film combines interviews and dramatizations of the struggles of the intellectual and revolutionary leader Jose Maria Sison, as framed by “The Guerrilla is Like a Poet,” a very important and influential poem that he wrote in his youth.
Sibling filmmakers Sari and Kiri Dalena explore the chapters of Sison’s life, from being a privileged and intellectual young man, to becoming one of the Philippines’ most prominent revolutionary figures, and later, his reemergence as a poet.
Although born to an Ilocano hacendero family, Sison, better known by his nickname Joma and his war name Amado Guerrero, became instrumental in reconstituting the Communist Party of the Philippines in 1968 and founding the New People’s Army in 1969.
While featuring various stages of his life, the film focuses on his prime during Martial Law. It also gives a face to a number of revolutionary faces of the late 1960s and early ’70s including Joma’s wife Julieta de Lima.
In between interviews with Joma and his comrades, the film features reenactments of his double life in the mountains and the city, his capture and imprisonment under the Marcos dictatorship, and his exile in the Netherlands.
The documentary reflects the filmmakers’ passion for the art form, historical events, and the plight of the masses. They have a complete grasp of their material and a clear vision of how to tell their story. Their sincere interest in depicting the revolutionary movement, alongside their impeccable storytelling choices, allows them to present a free-flowing story with a very personal and practical approach to its subject. The way the film highlights revolutionary art and culture organically is impeccable. Despite some technical concerns apparent in certain shots, the film still succeeds in providing a fitting intimacy through its cinematography, production design, and editing, as well as its minimalist musical score. All these live up to the technical, creative and economic needs of the narrative.
While the makers’ sentiments are obviously for the activists who are the film’s subjects, the presentation is such that it avoids being annoying and strident. The underlying story thrives in examining the youth, imagination and action of those revolutionaries. The tale also offers a thought-provoking stand on how people from different economic and social backgrounds make the ultimate sacrifice for their beliefs and convictions.
What makes this film work in different levels is its strong and well-written settings and characterizations, as well as its careful and skillful infusion of poetry and songs. The elements of humor and drama provide the right dynamics and humanity to the tale. Moreover, the film’s approach coincides with the exiled political leader’s own artistic and literary pursuits — mainly as a lover of music and poetry and an author of numerous books and essays.
The fine ensemble cast — a mix of up-and-coming talents and industry veterans including Karl Medina, Angeli Bayani, Bong Cabrera, Jao Mapa, Anthony Falcon, Chanel Latorre, Lehner Mendoza, Lui Quiambao-Manansala, and Marcus Madrigal — give uncanny performances which help make this film a solid piece that is truly worth watching.