3rd World Hero

The Philippines celebrated the centennial of its independence in 1998 and a nationalistic wave swept the country. Philippine cinema rode the crest with films on revered national hero Dr Jose P. Rizal (1), the most notable of which was Jose Rizal by acclaimed director Marilou Diaz-Abaya. A record-breaking (by Philippine standards), US$2 million biographical epic, Jose Rizal went on to become the most successful Filipino film of all time. Through a meticulous accumulation of historical and mythical detail, Diaz-Abaya masterfully creates a commemorative, hagiographical portrait of the 19th century martyr – a Rizal monument painted in light. (2) She also settles a bitterly-debated issue once and for all: Rizal’s alleged retraction of his strongly anti-colonial and anti-clerical writings. In Diaz-Abaya’s film, Rizal is the prodigal son who returns to the colonial Catholic religion of his oppressors and renounces the very works that “served to restore dignity, self respect, pride, and patriotism among the Filipinos”. (3)

The original choice for director of Jose Rizal was the reclusive film artist Mike de Leon. (4) He was, however, dismayed by the production delays that beset the dream project and walked out shortly after shooting began. But all was not lost for de Leon. Working outside the studio system, he personally funded an alternative Rizal film project that promised to break the closed marble-and-concrete representation of Diaz-Abaya’s Jose Rizal. His vision was to create an open-ended Rizal film that had more questions than answers:

We face the issue head on. It is not merely a question of whether he returned to the fold or not. What’s more important is did he retract his writings, his pronouncements, his lifework? If he did, then what’s so heroic about him? (5)

That said, de Leon puts Rizal’s alleged retraction and along with it, Spanish colonial Catholicism, on trial. Jose Rizal’s shadow, the satirical independent film 3rd World Hero (original title “Bayaning 3rd World”), premiered before a Manila arthouse audience in 2000. Wickedly hilarious yet insightfully cerebral, 3rd World Hero is the first Filipino feature film in many years to be shot entirely in black and white, a visual option that serves to cue the audience to consider the layers of meaning embedded in the filmic text. (6)

In this essay, I examine the ways in which 3rd World Hero represents colonial clerical power within the rubric of the retraction controversy. 3rd World Hero deconstructs what the mainstream Jose Rizal takes for granted and interrogates the cacophony of voices surrounding the national hero’s final moments. Social-historical analysis, as such, is constitutive for the film’s representational trajectory. De Leon does not just rely on the thematic, more literary aspects of the film’s storyline to carry out this filmic deconstruction. He traipses along the threshold of language, in the grammar of stylistic strategies, to create a film where visuals provide socio-political comment and not just avant-gardist embellishments. In this regard, 3rd World Hero importantly resonates with the project of not just Third World Cinema, but of a type of political film known as Third Cinema. I discuss Third Cinema in some detail further on. Suffice it to say at this point that Third Cinema critical theory provides the discursive theoretical framework for my analysis of 3rd World Hero.

Summary of 3rd World Hero

3rd World Hero

Figure 1

3rd World Hero opens with a prologue; we see cut-to-cut stills from an elementary school textbook featuring various Philippine national symbols. It ends with a frame that says “National Hero – Jose Rizal” (Figure 1). The narrator introduces two main characters – a director and a screenwriter – brainstorming on a Rizal film project. It becomes clear that this is a meta-film, a film within a film.

The two filmmakers embark on an investigative research to explore the cinematic potential of Rizal’s biography. We see a series of eclectic flash-cuts as the filmmakers review the “omnipresence” of Rizal in Philippine culture. Rizal had been canonized as a saint by folk religion, memorialised in the one-peso Philippine coin, and revered as a demi-god by filmmakers and historians. In addition, the national hero’s name had been used for every imaginable purpose – from naming streets to funeral homes. When the writer suggests a commemorative Rizal film for the Philippine centennial, the director dismisses it as tawdry, as though Rizal could be sold like a deodorant. (7)

The filmmakers rummage through Rizal’s life and zero-in on a controversial document which allegedly contains the hero’s retraction of his writings, his renunciation of freemasonry and his full submission to the authority of the Catholic church. They are suspicious, believing the retraction to be out-of-sync with Rizal’s character and convictions.

The film then blurs space-time boundaries as it sends the two filmmakers on assignment to interview the key characters surrounding the hero’s life. Rizal’s mother Doña Teodora; siblings Paciano, Narcisa and Trining; his love interest, the Hong Kong-raised Irish woman Josephine Bracken; and Jesuit fraile (8) Padre Balaguer all give testimonies of various shades of grey. The filmmakers finally come face-to-face with the man himself and they are frustrated that he does not provide the answers they need for their film project.

The two filmmakers end up with as many questions as they had in the beginning. 3rd World Hero reaches its open-ended dénouement: Rizal’s formidable body of work, and, indeed, the witness of his life as an exemplary nationalist, will continue to interrogate the validity of the retraction document.

A reprisal of the prologue featuring the intercut images of Philippine national symbols serves as the film’s epilogue. The end frame indicates “National Hero – Jose Rizal”.

3rd World Hero as Third Cinema

The critical question in this essay is not Rizal’s alleged retraction per se but the distinct cinematic way in which 3rd World Hero represents the contentious issue. A noteworthy feature of the filmic text is its employment of ideologically-determined stylistic codes that work to interrogate the religious-political power-play in Rizal’s 19th century colonial milieu. I submit that de Leon’s stylistic strategies importantly resonate with the trajectory of Third Cinema where ideology and style are mutually imbricated to portray a Third World emancipative vision.

Third Cinema does not so much point to a film’s geographical origins as it does a film’s dedication to an authentic representation of Third World peoples who continue in the struggle to become agents of their own history in the postcolonial aftermath:

What determines Third Cinema is the conception of the world, and not the genre or an explicit political approach. Any story, any subject can be taken up by Third Cinema. Third Cinema is a cinema of decolonisation, which expresses the will to national liberation, anti-mythic, anti-racist, anti-bourgeois, and popular. (9)

Third Cinema had its genesis in 1968 when Argentinean filmmakers Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino launched a social and artistic movement with a subversive agenda: that of establishing a “guerrilla cinema” geared at countering the overwhelming dominance of western cinema. Solanas and Getino distinguished Third Cinema from other forms of cinema, necessarily classified as First Cinema (commercial cinema epitomized by Hollywood) and Second Cinema (represented mainly by European Auteurist Cinema). Drawing mainly from the paradigm of decolonisation as conceptualised in Frantz Fanon’s 1961 book The Wretched of the Earth (10), and driven further by the “film experience” of creating the radical documentary La Hora de los Hornos (The Hour of the Furnaces, Argentina, 1968), the Argentinean filmmakers metaphorised Third Cinema filmmaking as virtual revolutionary warfare: “The camera is the inexhaustible expropriator of image-weapons; the projector, a gun that can shoot 24 frames per second.” (11)

In its later evolutionary turn, Third Cinema had become less strident and more methodical. Ethiopian film scholar Teshome Gabriel is credited for the development of a critical theory of Third Cinema where cinematic style and an ideology of Third World emancipation are inextricably linked. For Gabriel, the Third Cinema experience is “moved by the requirements of its social action and contexted and marked by the strategy of that action”. (12) As such, he contends that “Style is only meaningful in the context of its use – in how it acts on culture and helps illuminate the ideology within it.” (13)

Presently, Third Cinema is no longer considered as a demolition order against Hollywood and Auteur Cinema. Rather, it is dialectically angled towards giving voice and visibility to socially-resonant films that foreground the Third World experience and perspective. It is the exigency of social and historical analysis – “a rational interpretation of a historically defined reality so that a line of causation can be established” (14) – not sheer Third World miserabilism, that is constitutive for Third Cinema. Alongside the conjoined aspects of style and ideology, this is the linchpin that distinguishes Third Cinema from films belonging to the wider political genre. The canon of Third Cinema includes Ousmane Sembene’s Xala (Senegal, 1974), Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s La Ultima Cena (The Last Supper, Cuba, 1976), and Kidlat Tahimik’s Mababangong Bangungot (Perfumed Nightmare, The Philippines, 1976).

While Third Cinema holds the distinction of being the only major critical theory of film that did not emanate from the west, it is ironic that there has been an almost complete blackout of discussions relating to Southeast Asian Cinema, let alone Philippine Cinema. The oversight is evident in Gabriel’s groundbreaking work and carries on to the current scholarly debates on Third Cinema. My re-situating 3rd World Hero as an example of Philippine Third Cinema is a modest effort to fill in at least one of the missing jigsaw pieces.

At this juncture, I draw from the heuristic touchstones proffered by Third Cinema critical theory as I examine the ways in which 3rd World Hero represents colonial clerical power within the rubric of the Rizal retraction issue.

The Sentence of History

In 3rd World Hero, which, as earlier mentioned, is a film within a film, the search for the cinematic in Rizal’s life is first framed within the context of Philippine colonial history. This socio-historical context is seen through the optic of the two filmmaker-characters themselves. This is, after all, a film about their home country, and it is not possible for them to detach from their cultural base and assume a position of complete objectivity. The filmmaker-characters of 3rd World Hero are properly motivated by their own queries as members of the culture in question and it is clear then that their filmic investigation will not be value-free.

From the outset, the epistemological resonance between 3rd World Hero and the Third Cinema project can be drawn. Teshome Gabriel points out that the Third Cinema filmmaker is unequivocally committed to a liberative, decolonising vision and is thus unapologetically partisan for the colonized culture.

In selecting the themes and styles for his or her work, the filmmaker’s choice is both ideologically determined and circumscribed. Since the filmmaker disclaims a “non-class” or “above-class” ideology, he/she is necessarily committed to a certain ideological mode of perception and a codified way of interpreting not only culture but reality itself. (15)

Visually, the appearance of Rizal himself, stealthily darting through the filmmakers’ space-time sphere at violative turns, suggests that they cannot separate themselves as objective onlookers; the filmmakers are themselves imbricated in the investigation. They are not just filming, they are filming as postcolonial Filipinos.

3rd World Hero

Figure 2

3rd World Hero

Figure 3

As they begin their investigation of Rizal and the retraction issue, the filmmakers re-visit the sentence of history on their home country. They trace the successive colonial occupations of The Philippines in parodic fashion, referring to the colonizers in irreverent, present-day colloquial terms: the Spaniards as “coño boys”, the Americans as “Am-boys” and the Japanese as “Honda boys”. Simultaneously, the film presents flash cuts of still photographs for each colonizing period. It is notable that the image used to represent the “coño boys” features a Filipino hanging from a wooden cross while a Spanish torturer gives him a lashing with a whip. The camera is positioned just behind the shoulder of the crucified so we get a good high angle of the characters looking on, two of which are Spanish sentries. The other two are Spanish frailes, and standing between the clerics is a Filipino man identifiable from the native straw hat he wears. One of the frailes points an accusing finger towards the crucified man and he appears to be explaining the moral lesson behind the bloody spectacle to the onlooking Filipino beside him (Figure 2). The still, which recalls the imagery of medieval Spanish inquisition, appears twice in the film’s first quarter and we get to see that it actually hangs on the wall of the filmmaker-characters’ office. The telling image strategically displayed in the filmmakers’ work-space presupposes a “hermeneutic of suspicion” that will pervade the inquiry. It is a re-assertion that the filmmakers are native informants whose own postcolonial questions are reflected in the film. Another frame hanging alongside the crucifixion photograph – a reproduction of the actual 1896 photograph of Rizal’s execution (Figure 3) – provides the validation of the filmmakers’ hermeneutics of suspicion. Could the syntagmatic organization of the crucifixion photograph vis a vis the actual still of Rizal’s execution be iconic of a religious-political conspiracy surrounding Rizal’s alleged deathbed retraction and, thus, indexical of the outcome of the investigation? The filmmakers’ suspect that the fingerprints of Spanish clerical power play are all over the retraction controversy. (16)

Retracting Rizal’s Retraction

Me retracto de todo corazon de cuanto en mis palabras, escritos, inpresos y conducta ha habido contrario a mi cualidad de hijo de la Inglesia Catolica. Creo y profeso cuanto ella enseña y me somento a cuanto ella manda.

I retract with all my heart whatever in my words, writings, publications and conduct has been contrary to my character as son of the Catholic Church. I believe and I confess whatever she teaches and I submit to whatever she demands.

The above statement formed part of the retraction document (17) attributed to Jose Rizal. It was dated 29 December 1896, a day before his execution ordered by a Spanish court martial. Rizal had written two politically-leavened novels in Europe, Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) and El Filibusterismo (The Subversion), both of which represented a strident satirical indictment of the unholy conjugal oppression committed by the colonial governing authorities and the Roman Catholic religion in occupied Philippines. Rizal had been constantly hounded by the Spanish authorities who accused him of being the central rallying figure of a grassroots independence movement threatening to revolt against Mother Spain. Four copies of the retraction documents had surfaced after Rizal’s execution, each one allegedly expressing Rizal’s turnabout from freemasonry, his renunciation of all his writings and his repentant submission to the authority of the Catholic church. None of these documents, however, have been convincingly authenticated, let alone proven, as having been penned by Rizal himself. Nonetheless, official versions of history have taken the retraction issue for granted.

3rd World Hero’s investigation begins with its prologue, presenting Philippine national symbols most Filipinos learn by rote from childhood. The crudely-drawn images of a typical schoolbook are presented one after another in cut-to-cut edit, like elementary school flashcards used as memory aids. With this as a point of departure, the film establishes the way in which official versions of Philippine history, including Rizal’s heroism and retraction, are treated as mere givens in learning institutions and thus remain unquestioned. Like most schoolchildren of my generation, I, for one, was taught that Rizal died a Roman Catholic. The filmmaker-characters presumably share this uncritical indoctrination and they now seek to deconstruct it in “an investigation of the national hero status of Rizal” and, for them, the retraction controversy is the rubric within which to do just that.

We see a slide projection of the retraction document as the director presents the facts of the case. He notes that opinions about the retraction have always been polarized between those who accept the documents as genuine, and those who believe that a religious-political conspiracy fabricated the story and forged Rizal’s penmanship. Two comparative images are intercut to problematise the contentious issue through mise en scène. The first shows what could be Rizal’s hand, writing the retraction with a feathered pen. The second is more intriguing: it shows hooded monks seated in a row, forging copies of the retraction assemblyline-style, with one of them photocopying the forged documents. The representation is humorously satirical and, right away, it questions the validity of the retraction documents as too obviously farcical to be believable. The blurring of time boundaries, as evoked by the incongruous blending of 19th Century monks and a photocopying machine, represents the filmmakers’ present-day suspicion of the probable role of the Catholic church in a conspiracy against Rizal. Again, it is shown here how imbricated the filmmakers are in the Rizal project. Moreover, it indicates that the investigation will play out as an ideological analysis of the retraction issue based on their serious doubts about the authenticity of the official documents. There is an undeniable confrontational intent, a “praxis of Third Cinema”, if you will, that becomes evident in the film’s æsthetics:

The aesthetic of Third Cinema also moves between two poles; one, the demand that the works engage the actual pressing social realities of the day, and the other that the film achieve its impression of reality, not by simply mirroring, but by transforming the given. (18)

Gabriel’s assertion finds further crystallization in the stylistic options of 3rd World Hero during a sequence when the director asks his writer why he thinks the retraction issue is unimportant. The film gives an answer to the contrary by way of strategic editing. It shows Rizal in c. 1890 Paris, writing a letter to his Austrian friend E. Blumentritt. Heard as a voice-over, Rizal denounces the Spanish clerics for selling out their religious beliefs to enrich themselves, attacking Filipino nationals, and seducing The Philippines (metaphorised as a young innocent maiden), all in religion’s name. (19) Rizal would then remark:

Why then should I not fight against religion with all my might when it is the primary cause of our sufferings and grievances. (20)

Documentary footage featuring a wide-angle shot of a present-day “Black Nazarene” procession in Quiapo, Manila, is immediately edited in. This is an annual pilgrimage where thousands of devotees parade a Spanish colonial statue of a black Christ bearing his cross. The procession scene vis a vis the Rizal scene and voice-over are incongruous; they are, at least, a century apart. The use of present-day documentary footage represents the filmmaker-characters’ sphere of reality, not Rizal’s. Yet again, the filmmaker-characters’ own postcolonial viewpoint finds representation in the blurring of temporal boundaries as the intercut scenes represent the crossings between past and present. What is even more telling is the very image of a coloured Christ bearing a heavy cross, which bespeaks of the infusion of a penitential culture perpetuated by colonial religion to sacralize the passivity of the colonized, who were made to believe that suffering and self-mortification meant participation in the passion of Christ. (21) The ongoing ramifications of colonial religion – a culture of passivity and inferiority – in the filmmakers’ own sphere of reality is represented by the indexical symbol of the Black Nazarene, a relic of the Catholicism of Rizal’s milieu.

How probable is it then that Rizal could have admitted that he was in error and retracted his denunciation of colonial religion when its negative reverberations are still felt by today’s Filipino and his writings continue to hold prophetic-liberating power, the director asks. In a heated debate, the writer plays devil’s advocate and argues that Rizal was considered a convicted political criminal; the real issue is political, not religious. Thus, Rizal’s anti-clerical sentiment must be treated as a separate issue. The director fires back:

DIRECTOR: Let’s not kid ourselves, you know that what you’ve just said is ludicrous … in Rizal’s time, the church was the government, and the government was the church! (22)

Just at the tail-end of the director’s argument, a flash cut of the earlier discussed crucifixion photograph re-appears. This time, it is a tighter close-up of the Spanish fraile pointing an accusing finger at the crucified Filipino; the expression of contempt is now more visibly etched on the cleric’s face. The camera pulls out to reveal the other fraile, the Spanish sentries, and the Filipino intently listening to what appears to be the cleric’s explication on the moral lesson behind the crucifixion.

At this pivotal turn, the photograph clearly becomes a leitmotiv in the film and iconic of the suspected colonial clerical power play behind Rizal’s retraction.

3rd World Hero continues to search for answers via magic realism, as the filmmakers take turns breaking through spatial and temporal boundaries and personally interviewing the key personages surrounding Rizal. His mother and brother, despite their personal reservations, believe the retraction to be false and inconsistent with what Rizal stood for, while his sisters give ambiguous, inconclusive testimonies. Rizal’s mistress, Josephine Bracken, insists that Rizal married her in Catholic rites, thus, indirectly confirming the retraction. Finally, the director gets to interview Padre Balaguer, the Jesuit priest who claims to have been the direct witness to the retraction.

I draw attention to the Padre Balaguer sequence as it is decisive for an understanding of 3rd World Hero’s representation of the role of colonial clerical power in the retraction controversy.

3rd World Hero

Figure 4

The Padre Balaguer sequence showcases de Leon’s mastery over the language of cinematic visuals, already letting out the verdict of the investigation through the language of mise en scène, editing, lighting and music. We see the director in Padre Balaguer’s cramped wood-panelled office. Balaguer is seated behind his desk, a crucifix hanging on the wall behind him. As the point-of-view shifts, through editing, between Balaguer and the interviewing director seated opposite him, two very odd things become apparent. First, Balaguer’s office is conspicuously shaped like a coffin. Second, the office has no doors (Figure 4). The syntagmatic meaning evoked by the mise en scène and editing is clear. Balaguer’s room configured as a coffin connotes that Rizal had already been sentenced to death from the outset. The absence of doors indicates that his fate is sealed and there is no way out.

As the interview carries on, the visual foreboding is further supported when a scene is introduced showing Rizal positioned between two frailes, here shown facing him. The shot is composed in such a way that the two clerics are shot from behind the shoulder so that their habits provide internal framing for Rizal, who stands between them in the background. Again, the leitmotiv of the crucifixion photograph finds expression, with Rizal playing the Filipino walled in between two frailes. The message is consistent: Rizal is trapped, his death looms.

In the ensuing interview, 3rd World Hero presents a visual re-enactment of the priest’s testimony and we appreciate how it unfolds like a comedy of errors. The historical testimony of Balaguer claims that Rizal repentantly wept, confessed three times and received communion in a span of just a few hours prior to his execution. While that in itself sounds suspicious, the visual rendering of a weeping Rizal going through three consecutive confessions makes it look even more ludicrous. When Rizal is finally shown with the Jesuit priests, kneeling before an image of the Immaculate Conception, a light shines through a window and bathes him in divinised radiance. With an accompanying ethereal musical score, the scene plays out like a parodic appropriation of classical hagiographical movies in the mould of Fratello Sole, Sorella Luna (Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Franco Zeffirelli, 1973). As the Balaguer scene ends, we notice that the crucifix behind him had disappeared; in its place is the reproduction of the 1896 photograph of Rizal’s execution.

At this point, 3rd World Hero’s ideologically-determined stylistic strategies all click firmly into place. The very stylistic strategies conspire to set up a Damocles’ sword over Rizal and, as a result, de Leon is able to seamlessly present the Balaguer’s testimony for what he suspects it is – a comical farce – albeit one that is protectively veiled by the mantle of the Catholic church.

The tragic reality portrayed by the Third Cinema optic of 3rd World Hero is that Rizal had been crucified on the cross of colonial clerical power. It would then be eerily comical to believe that the retraction document was written by Rizal’s own colonially-pierced hand.

National Hero – Jose Rizal

Towards the ending of Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s mainstream biopic Jose Rizal, the national hero makes a tearful confession before Padre Balaguer, kisses a crucifix on his way to the firing squad and firmly clutches rosary beads until he breathes his last. It is the hero of elementary schoolbooks which uncritically accept that Rizal had disowned his writings and died a Roman Catholic.

3rd World Hero ends where it begins: with a reprise of the textbook pages of national symbols Filipino schoolchildren learn by rote. The epilogue, however, can now be viewed after having gone through the critical lens of Third Cinema. De Leon had maximized the grammar of film to stylistically present an alternative historiography of the national hero that rises to challenge “official versions” of history Diaz-Abaya’s film had memorialised.

In the clear-eyed view of 3rd World Hero, Rizal will always be framed by the context of his Third World culture and that culture carries the sentence of history – a long drawn and particularly abusive Spanish colonial occupation. This contextual framework is very relativising. 3rd World Hero critiques the way in which religion had been used by the Spanish frailes for their own colonial profit and collective egoism; to think that the frailes represented the interests of Rizal is the stuff of Chaplinesque comedy. In the process, 3rd World Hero insists that Jose Rizal is not the Philippine national hero for nothing. His life work attests to his profound commitment to the restoration of freedom and human dignity in his beloved motherland. And as far as many Filipinos are concerned, this is the kind of Catholic religion Rizal lived and died for. (23)

That said, we no longer view the film’s epilogue through “reductive” eyes, but through “restorative” eyes – or to borrow from the hermeneutical thought of philosopher Paul Ricouer, through a “second naïveté”. (24)

3rd World Hero thus presents an end frame that now reads more confidently: “National Hero – Jose Rizal”.

Endnotes

  1. Rival American theatre-owners produced the first films on Jose Rizal in 1912. Edward Gross’ La Vida de Dr. Jose Rizal (The Life of Dr Jose Rizal) and Albert Yearsley’s La Vida y muerte del gran martir Filipino, Dr. Jose Rizal (The Life and Death of the Great Filipino Martyr, Dr Jose Rizal) were technically crude and historically inaccurate, but were box-office successes. See Clodualdo del Mundo, Native Resistance: Philippine Cinema and Colonialism 1898-1941 (Manila: De La Salle University Press, 1998), p. 57. See also Nick Deocampo, Cine: Spanish Influences on Early Cinema in the Philippines (Manila: National Commission for Culture and the Arts, 2003), p. 190. Since then, Jose Rizal had become the spotlighted subject of a continuum of Filipino films.
  2. Diaz-Abaya’s hagiographical biopic is not without basis. Jose Rizal, after all, was known to be an exceptionally gifted individual: “an ophthalmic surgeon, poet, novelist, journalist, and linguist, who carried on correspondence in six different languages.” Revered by Filipinos and international admirers alike, Rizal has been described as “the most learned and respected member of the Malay race”. See D. R. SarDesai, Southeast Asia: Past and Present (Boulder: Westview Press, 1994), p. 141.
  3. Ibid., p. 142.
  4. Erstwhile cinematographer to the late Lino Brocka, Mike de Leon is known to be a master of visual poetics. His filmography includes Itim (The Rites of May, 1976), Kisapmata (In a Blink of an Eye, 1982), and the short film Aliwan Paradise, which formed part of the Japanese-produced omnibus film Pacific Winds (1991). Wearing the hats of producer, director and co-writer for 3rd World Hero, de Leon had full creative control over the project. The film represents de Leon’s contribution to independent filmmaking and his return to film art after an extended hiatus.
  5. Clodualdo del Mundo, “Conversations with Mike de Leon” in the journal Pelikula, 1999 September, p. 63.
  6. Mike de Leon contends, “color tends to accentuate the surface. I’m more interested in ideas, so I hope that black-and-white would help the audience to think more than admire the surface.” Ibid., p. 64.
  7. The film cuts to a hilarious mock advertisement with Rizal’s name emblazoned on a bottle of deodorant while a model proceeds to spray on his armpits. The irreverent tagline: “Agua Rizalina … so you won’t smell like an indio”. Indio was a radicalised Spanish-colonial pejorative used to denigrate Filipino nationals as inferior and uncivilized.
  8. Fraile refers to a Spanish friar.
  9. Michael Chanan quotes Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino in “The Changing Geography of Third Cinema”, in Screen, Winter 1997, p. 36.
  10. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington (New York: grove Press, 1963).
  11. Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino, “Towards a Third Cinema”, in Simon Field and Peter Sainsbury (Eds), Third World Cinema (London: Afterimage Publishing, 1971), p. 29.
  12. Teshome Gabriel, “Towards a Critical Theory of Third World Films”, in Jim Pines and Paul Willemen (Eds), Questions of Third Cinema (London: British Film Institute, 1994), p. 40.
  13. Teshome Gabriel, Third Cinema in the Third World: The Aesthetics of Liberation (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1979), p. 41.
  14. Ibid., p. 97.
  15. Gabriel, Third Cinema in the Third World, p. 2.
  16. For works that evince a similar hermeneutics of suspicion over Rizal’s alleged retraction, consult the ff. references: Rafael Palma, The Pride of the Malay Race: A Biography of Jose Rizal, translated by Rafael Ozaeta (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1949), p. 333-44; Austin Coates, Rizal: Philippine Nationalist and Martyr (Hong Kong-New York: Oxford Press, 1968), p. 332-48; Eugene A. Hessel’s “Rizal’s Retraction: A Note on the Debate”, in Gerald H. Anderson, Studies in Philippine Church History (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1969), p. 133-51; and the interview “Manuel Sarkisyanz: Rizal was a Victim of a Struggle between Spain and Spain”, in Ambeth A. Ocampo, Rizal Without the Overcoat (Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, 1990), p. 101-6.
  17. From the supposedly original retraction document discovered by Fr Manuel Garcia, C.M., on 18 May 1935. See Jose Rizal University website – www.joserizal.ph/rt01.html.
  18. Ibid., p. 8.
  19. Filipino revisionist historian Renato Constantino notes that the economic exploitation committed by Spanish friars in The Philippines – “land grabbing, charging exorbitant taxes, and subjecting tenants to cruel restrictions in the use of church lands” – fuelled uprisings in the country. , István Mészáros (Ed.), Neocolonial Identity and Counter-Consciousness: Essays on Cultural Decolonization (London: Merlin Press, 1978), p. 47.
  20. English translation mine.
  21. Benigno Beltran discusses the sublimation of the Spanish colonial religion into Folk Catholicism where a penitential religious culture began to take root. The Christology of the Inarticulate: An Inquiry into the Filipino Understanding of Jesus the Christ (Manila: Divine Word Publications, 1987), p. 5. Also, SarDesai notes, “The Filipinos’ submissive attitude was partly the result of the Spanish clergy and Dominican friars constantly telling them how intellectually inferior they were …”, Southeast Asia: Past and Present, p. 139.
  22. When commenting on the retraction issue, Eugene A. Hessel argues, “The major witnesses are priests or government officials at a time when church and state worked hand in hand.” See “Rizal’s Retraction: The Debate”, in Gerald H. Anderson (Ed.), Studies in Philippine Church History, p. 143.
  23. As Hessel emphasizes, there was a liberal, ethically-angled theological thread in Rizal’s later thought that may be found “from writing to writing”. A such, “Rizal had a consistent and meaningful system of Christian thought, and it is therefore harder to think of his suddenly exchanging it for another.” See “Rizal’s Retraction: The Debate” in Anderson (Ed.), Studies in Philippine Church History, p. 149-50. For more on the ethical concern in Rizal’s religious convictions, see also Hessel, The Religious Thought of Jose Rizal, revised edition. (Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1983), p. 290-1. The epistemological project of Rizal’s personal religious convictions is the integrity of the human person. He configures human liberation in a sense akin to the Latin libertas, rather than the Teutonic “freedom.” Refer to “Rizal and Human Freedon” in International Congress on Rizal, 4-8 December 1961: Data Papers (Manila: Jose Rizal Centennial Commission, 1961), p. 294-5.
  24. In his hermeneutics of biblical symbolic systems, Paul Ricouer explains that the modern interpretive direction is to “aim at a second naïveté in and through criticism”, in contrast to a “primitive naïveté” or the “precritical form of immediate belief”. He adds, “it is by interpreting that we can hear again.” The Symbolism of Evil, trans. Emerson Buchanan (Boston: Beacon Press, 1967), p. 351-2.

About The Author

Antonio David Sison is a U.S.-based Filipino theologian engaged in the study of Theology and Cinema. He obtained his Ph.D from the Katholieke Universiteit Nijmegen in the Netherlands. He is a contributing writer for the National Catholic Reporter, The Journal of Religion and Film, Cross-Currents, and the book Representing Religion in World Cinema (Palgrave Macmillan 2003). He is also a screenwriter and independent filmmaker. His latest short art film is The Passion of Chris, a satirical take on the theme of “Catholic guilt”.