CHELO R. BANAL
Februry 3, 1980
The movie is called "AGUILA" and contrary to what is being whispered about by birdwatchers, it isn't about an eagle that preys on parish priests.
It took 12 stars, 60 production staff and crewmen, 7,000 extras, 120 different locations, and 100 days to film 204 pages of script about the life of Daniel Aguila which traverses the 1890s to the 1970s.
Give us the details, as the man says.
One casting change: Rio Locsin, who was originally to play Huk commander Diwata, was bumped off for Chanda Romero when she failed to show up on her first shooting day.
One walk-out: Mike de Leon as cinematographer.
One accident: a crewman hurt himself when the Lad Cruiser used in the movie hit an LVN unit bus.
One luxury: a portable latrine in a portable wigwam to preserve the stars' portable glamor during shooting in hilly, forested areas.
One month of waiting: Ronnie Poe up and disappeared reportedly to lose weight before playing a younger Daniel Aguila.
Besides these, Amalia Fuentes brought her own diffuser, Jay Ilagan got a crew cut, Ronnie Poe choreographed the fight and war scenes...
No romance took wings in the set...
Art director Mel Chionglo with three assistants, two set men and 10 carpenters, actually built a Magdiwang camp and an Ilongot village in the hills of Tanay and an Aeta village in Los Banos, in addition to designing sets for, among others, an 1897 evening in Binondo, a 1918 Muslim waterfront in Nasugbu, Batangas, a 1924 courthouse in Magdalena, Laguna, a Roaring Twenties cabaret in Makati, a Japanese garrison in Lumban...
Ryan Cayabyab sang the American singer's part...
At least eight stars have to grow old in the movie: FPJ, Charo, Christopher de Leon, Jay, Orestes Ojeda, Eddie Garcia, Elizabeth Oropesa and Amalia...
There is no truth to the rumor that make-up man Tony Artienda is half-blind...
Director Eddie Romero usually came to the set late and the big stars even later; the lesser stars waited and the crew waited even longer but the mood in the set was generally described as relaxed...
The movie cost P5 million...
Bancom Audio-Vision put up half the amount and lured other investors to sink in the other half. Going for broke, it also cashed in P100,000 for an hour-long documentary film on the making of "AGUILA" for showing on television and hired Jesse Ejercito, producer of a string of box-office busters, as advertising and marketing consultant...
"AGUILA" runs three and a half hours...
It has been previewed thrice, is being readied to be premiered thrice and, in movie page parlance, is slated for simultaneous showing at 25 theaters in Metro Manila, with a Valentine's Day opening.
After the how many, how long and how much of things, when numbers have been counted and peopled named and moments marked, who is Daniel Aguila?
In the space of some scenes, out of the changing shadows on the screen, does he have the potential to become real to us?
"He is an average, well-meaning Filipino with a little more courage than most but not as much courage as Fernando Poe Jr.," says his creator, Eddie Romero, who wrote the story and script, approached Bancom for backing, signed up the stars, and directed the movie, all in two years ("that is no guarantee that it's going to be a great epic").
While Aguila is no FPJ, Fernando Poe, Jr. is Daniel Aguila and he gave up a lot to be him. Though he has never been a flashy actor, Poe is used to playing larger-than-life heroes.
As Aguila, he is the hero but there are no villains. He doesn't have to make the bad guys pay for what they've done. He gets to kill his mother's assailant on the spot but it is more out of instinct than a sense of vengeance, which is usually the major force in many of FPJ movie. There are no baddies in this picture because, in the words of Romero, "a lot of evil that is done is done by well-intentioned men out of fear."
Ronnie Poe as Aguila has no shining moment. In reality, few men ever have. The joys of birth and tragedies of death and all the mixed emotions in between are really very private surprises. They don't entitle a man to an acting award because in life there are no acting awards.
"There's no dearth of actors who can do confrontations," says Romero. "But there's a great shortage of actors who can do nothing well." He needed, and got, the second kind of actor.
Daniel Aguila is six years old when he first realizes that all's not fair in the world. His mother (Amalia Fuentes) steals away in the night with him to join his father (Dave Brodett) who is fighting in the Revolution and is consequently killed, having been betrayed by an opportunista (Eddie Garcia) whom his mother eventually marries.
Aguila is already father to a half-Muslim boy (who will grow up to be Jay Ilagan) and Constabulary captain by the time he meets and marries a smart lawyer named Sally (Charo Santos), by whom he has three children.
Their eldest, Mari (Christopher de Leon), comes into power as a businessman and senator. Their second son, Vic (Orestes Ojeda) has a son who turns against everything the family stands for and joins a radical group.
As all these happen, Daniel Aguila stands helplessly by. The truth is, there are gaps between people, no matter how they love each other.
On his 80th year, having done so much, seen even more, and still, not making any sense of it, he gets lost. It is while searching for him that his son Mari tells his story, in a tangle of memories.
The movie flashes back to the life and times of Daniel Aguila, shows the people he loved and those he spurned and shares, without being tedious, a few juicy bits always being gossiped about wealthy families.
It gives you a sense of leafing through both a Philippine history book and a private album. There is no swiftly expressible drama to connect events and images; their enclosure within one movie is the drama.
There are no photographic highs either. Mike de Leon's camera is unobtrusive as Poe's hero because that's the way it should be when the story carries the day.
"If I felt it was more theme than story," confesses the director, "I'd consider it an artistic failure." For him, the story is its own excuse for being.
And in "Aguila" more than in any other movie of his ("Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon," "Sinong Kapiling, Sinong Kasiping" and "Banta ng Kahapon," to name three), the story is fuller, livelier, with more landscape, more wisdom, more sorrow in it.
"My uncle is sending me away to share the bed of a man I have never seen," says the Muslim girl Farida (Sandy Andolong) to Lt. Aguila in his quarters at the PC barracks. "Maybe I will learn to love the fifth son of the second brother of the Sultan. But suppose I do not? I will never know what it is like to have a man care for me and to care for him in return."
And because she was foolish and would rather have been loved, she offered herself to him and bore him a son. The tragedy of it is nobody is sure of Aguila's loving her. She thought he did and he might have loved her because when she died he took their son and cared for him but still, nobody can be sure.
"I'll tell the audience what happens, show them as it happens and it's up to them if they want to laugh or cry or think about it or say there's more for that than meets the eye," says Romero.
It is this doing on the story, however, that robs Romero of the chance to make a thoroughly good movie. He has no patience for details. Cosmetics, least of all.
Thus, Amalia looks not a year older than Ronnie who is supposed to be her son. In fact, nobody looks as old as he should be in the movie. Perhaps, the gods are kinder to them but that is difficult to believe from all the love and thunder and betrayal and pain in the story. An 88-year old Daniel has a head full of hair, with sideburns yet, and the wardrobe of an action star.
"When you're trying to make a picture on the scale of 'Aguila' you're working against various odds. So I'll leave that to the audience, too," says Eddie. "I always never lose sight of the possibility, in the course of making a picture, that I can come up with a cropper. I can blow it with the best intentions in the world."
His intention, primarily, is to entertain. "Anything you have to say should be in the course of entertaining," he adds. "To entertain is to make people feel good, not by telling them lies -- if that's what entertainment is then I'm not that kind of entertainer -- but certainly you can amuse by trying to bring out the best in them."
Fortunately for him or to his credit, "AGUILA" is no cropper. It amuses and makes you think. It is the first movie in years whose characters have mental processes and show it, too.
On top of that, their portrayal is largely accurate, never arty. Majority of the cast made the bother to grapple, however timidly, for the exact tone and texture called for -- Jay Ilagan, Charo Santos and Joonee Gamboa most endearing of all.
The ending is very quiet, hardly soaring. Daniel Aguila, it turns out, has come to terms with himself. He realizes he cannot change a bad, balky world but he can redress himself because in being brave and strong and fair, he wanted everybody to be the same. In the end, he sees that a man can only amend his own wrong, do his own right, live his own life.
It is, in other words, very un-FPJ.
As for the question, after all the statistics, of whether Daniel Aguila becomes almost real to us who have the same dimly and fitfully lived lives, Eddie Romero leaves it up to you.
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