Review: Mark Meily's EL PRESIDENTE Is A Historical Annoyance

A lot has already been said and written about the historical inaccuracies of Mark Meily's El Presidente, how the glamour project dastardly re-portrayed historical figures to suit enlarged egos and their enlarged pockets. Andres Bonifacio (played with a notable lack of charm by Cesar Montano), the founder of the Philippine revolution who was tragically killed by his fellow men, is depicted as a severely sore loser. Antonio Luna (played, complete with gritting teeth, by Christopher de Leon), a top-ranking general of the revolutionary government who was murdered, is shown to be cruel, despotic and deserving of his embarrassing death as a matter of narrative logic. Emilio Aguinaldo (played with uncharacteristic and unbelievable nobility by Jorge Estregan), the titular president, reaps all the rewards of Meily's unapologetic cinematic slander, coming out as an indisputable hero as sanctioned by the motherland herself.

In fairness to Meily, he is simply a writer-director shackled by the demands of producers. He has Aguinaldo's autobiography, a tome written by the first president late in his life to wash away the sins that have been attributed to him, as blueprint for his screenplay. It is inevitable that the film birthed from the pages of an unabashedly biased account would be one sided and slanted.

Meily's biggest fault is not the fact that it portrays a version of history that is unpopular, but the glaring ineptitude he shapes such portrayal. El Presidente is not only awfully directed, it is also intrinsically confused, unable to determine what it wants to be or what it opts to focus on. The film needlessly details decades' worth of information within an already overgenerous running time. Such unwise ambitiousness leads it to become unreasonably episodic and absolutely laborious to sit through.

Very telling of the film's confusion is that it utilizes two introductions. El Presidente opens with an action-packed precursor to the narrative's turning point, featuring Aguinaldo attempting to evade his eventual capture. After the end of the much-choreographed sequence, Meily proceeds to jump several years before, where Aguinaldo, in his youth, encounters a mysterious old woman who predicts his future in terms of the three women he will be in love with.

The two introductions preview Meily's intentions with the film. They expose his goal of creating an action-packed historical film that is framed within a storyline that is supposedly laced with romance. The film in turn features plentiful battles, embellished with gunfights and explosions, some of which are played in inexplicable slow motion. Curiously absent is the romance. The women of Aguinaldo's life are nothing more than decorations, two-dimensional characters that are propelled to the limelight by the sole fact that they are played by famous actresses. El Presidente is just indisputably dull. It is unable to muster enough movement or excitement to be a compelling war film. More importantly, it is sorely drab, unromantic and sexless.

Instead of creating a film that either convinces or creates debates, Meily only stirs emotions because its portrayals are all too easy and convenient for such controversial pronouncements. In the end, El Presidente is nothing more than an annoyance. It does not deserve a riot.

(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)
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  • Jose Mari Lee

    I totally agree. The film is so lame, interspersed with over-extended scenes in-between shoot-outs and it fluctuates like a sphygmomanometer checking a patient's blood pressure: up and down, down and up.

    The film is quite pretentious, trying so hard to sound controversial, but instead, we end up getting nothing but hearsay.

    It is absolutely revisionist, written and directed by a Sorcesser's apprentice.

    And
    by golly! Every time the actors deliver their Castillan dialogs, they
    sent chills up and down my spine. Their Spanish accents are so
    laughable—it didn't come from España but from España Street, Sampaloc, Manila.
    Por Dios!

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