A three-hour epic on the life and struggles of poet and patriot Jose Rizal, the national hero and martyr of the Philippines, this film was commissioned to mark the 1998 centennial of the country's independence from Spanish colonial rule. Rizal was a remarkably educated man; not only was he a writer, but he was also a painter, sculptor, doctor and surgeon, teacher, natural scientist, economist, engineer and theologian. He was an excellent fencer and marksman; he studied at colleges in Europe, America and Asia, traveled to many different nations and could speak twenty-two languages. He was a champion of his country's independence, a Filipino Gandhi who faced the firing squad at the age of thirty-five for inciting rebellion. He was the instigator of the Philippine revolution of 1896-98, the first national uprising against a colonial power in Asia. He also wrote two books, Noli me tangere and El Filibusterismo, which sought to increase his people's political awareness. Director Marilou Diaz-Abaya deliberately avoids a historical lesson. The Rizal of her story Cesar Montano is thinking back on his life and writings from his prison cell in the fortress of Santiago; the characters that appear are a blend of the real people, friends and enemies as well as those he created in his books. The script is solid, with a contribution by Diaz-Abaya's long time collaborator, Ricky Lee; the soft tones of the cinematography helps to create an atmosphere of magic appropriate to the story of a legendary hero, and the acting by Cesar Montano is quite remarkable. Jose Rizal was screened as part of the Panorama section of the 49th International Berlin Film Festival, 1999.
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