Here’s our case for why if you only have time to watch one movie in MMFF 2023, it should be GomBurZa.
If the one billion pesos gross and third-week extension is anything to go by, this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival has been going pretty well. This year’s selection of ten films has been connecting with audiences, some more than others. From the simple yet moving tale of Best Picture winner Firefly to the time travel horror of Mallari, pop culture references of Becky & Badette, the love story at the center of Rewind, and more, MMFF 2023 has its fair share of films gaining a wide array of fans. But among this year’s roster, there’s nothing quite like GomBurZa.
While the story of Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora is a mainstay in history classes, this big-screen adaptation by Pepe Diokno succeeds on multiple fronts. It brings to life a historic tale in some of the most vivid ways possible, making MMFF 2023’s 2nd Best Picture a worthy entry in the Philippine historical drama subgenre. As MMFF heads into its final week, we rounded up a few reasons why GomBurZa deserves a spot on your must-watch list.
THE ACTING IS *CHEF’S KISS*
A good movie has a couple of good performances. Great movies have their whole cast leading the way. GomBurZa is comfortably in the latter category. Led by the incomparable Best Lead Actor winner Cedrick Juan, the movie shines with how every member of the cast brings to life these historical figures. In particular, the way Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora process their fates serves as a highlight of the movie as each processes their pending execution in various ways.
Juan turns Burgos into an unlikely martyr for the better treatment of Filipinos, Dante Rivero gives Gomez an aged wisdom, while Enchong Dee injects a level of defeat into Zamora fitting for a man caught in the crossfire. Even the side characters are a treat to watch. From Piolo Pascual’s Pedro Pelaez to Elijah Canlas’ Paciano Mercado, their character arcs serve as fitting companions, not side distractions, to the overall narrative.
IT PROPERLY DISCUSSES PHILIPPINE HISTORY
In a time when Filipino movies and other forms of local entertainment are used to warp history, GomBurZa succeeds in giving Philippine history its due. The two-hour film takes its time giving both sides of the story, from the Spanish friars’ disgust of secular priests to Filipinos in the upper and lower echelons of society who begin to understand the injustice in the country.
But in all of this, the movie doesn’t forget that it is still a movie. It marries narrative and drama with historical moments for an educational spectacle. Also, this cinematic take on the three priests’ sacrifice gives it new life and makes what happened to them hit at a deeper level. It’s an evocative take on one of Philippine history’s most important moments during Spanish rule.
THE LESSONS SPEAK TO TODAY
Even though what happened to GomBurZa was in the 1800s, the lessons gleaned from their fate still speak to what is happening today. Long after the Spanish colonizers left the Philippines, injustice, corruption, and abuse still infect modern society. The movie is also aware of this fact with how it approaches its conflicts in a way that modern audiences can understand. As sad as it is, what happened to the trio is still happening to Filipinos today, but GomBurZa doesn’t end its tale on a sour note.
Without getting too heavy-handed, the film finds time to show that their execution was a major spark that pushed Filipinos to stand up and fight for themselves. In essence, it’s a tribute and homage to their sacrifice, as well as that of other Filipinos who fought for equality.
On its acting and narrative merits alone, GomBurZa is a winner. But it also shines in its technical execution as a well-made movie. Director Pepe Diokno leads the movie with the confidence and respect the subject matter deserves. The production design and costuming look authentic and help bring the viewer into the world of the 1800s Philippines. The cinematography, meanwhile, is downright jaw-dropping thanks to the talents of cinematographer Carlo Mendoza.
Playing with the bright Philippine sun and darkness that is cut into by candlelight, the movie is a technical marvel. The film’s final act is a true showcase of technical excellence with its execution. Without giving too much away, the final scenes are a sight on the big screen that are equal parts intimate and daunting. You can tell there was a passion behind the filmmakers that translated on-screen.
All in all, GomBurZa does something that any historical drama should do if it wants to succeed; tell a story fitting for the big screen that still stays true to the historical underpinnings of the real events. GomBurZa didn’t have to compromise whether it wanted to be a movie or a history lesson. It seamlessly weaves through historical moments through the lens of a compelling cinematic experience. It also is another reminder of how rich and effective the Philippine historical subgenre is.
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