Baler (2008)

 

 

 

Director:     Mark Meily.

Starring:     Phillip Salvador (Daniel Reyes), Jericho Rosales (Celso Resurrecion), Anne Curtis (Feliza Reyes), Andrew Schimmer (Lt. Jose Mota), Joel Torre (Commandante Teodorico Luna Novicio), Carlo Aquino (Gabriel Reyes), DJ Durano (Pablo), Rio Locsin (Azon Reyes), Nikki Bacolod (Luming), Mark Bautista (Lope), Ryan Eigenmann(2nd Lt. Saturnino Martin Cerezo), Baron Geisler (Capt. Enrique Fossi de las Morenas), Michael De Mesa (Fr. Candido Gomez Carreno), Leo Martinez (Col. Calixto Villacorte), Alvin Anson (Gregorio Catalan Valero).

1898, Siege of Baler, Philippines between Filipino forces and Spanish soldiers defending Baler (today it's the capital municipality of Aurora)

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

"Based on true events. This story of love begins in Baler." [Baler is a 3rd class municipality in the province of Aurora, Philippines and the capital of the province of Aurora on the largest island known as Luzon. It is situated on a vast plain at the mouth of Baler Bay, a contiguous segment of the Philippine Sea. The municipality is 230 kilometers northeast of Manila via a mountain pass.]

A Spanish soldier named Celso Resurrecion kisses a young woman named Feliza. He says he will walk her home, but she says no because of the danger that someone might see them.

By a church there is an armed man guarding the area. The guard yells out the word rebels, but then is shot dead. A firefight begins with quite a few casualties. Lt. Jose Mota finds himself surrounded by the rebels. A rebel leader tells him to surrender. The lieutenant thinks awhile and then shoots himself in the head.

One year later. Feliza and Celso are sitting on a lawn. They hear a bell and Feliza says that she must go because they will be looking for her. Celso is a bit jumpy because they say there has been a increase in the ranks of the rebels. He asks Feliza if she remembers the massacre of last year? He warns her of possible traitors.

A messenger brings a note to a rebel officer saying that the ceasefire has been signed and is now in effect. The messenger says the ceasefire applies to all. A rebel asks if the messenger remembers the massacre they unleashed on the Spaniards last year? The messenger replies that the new commandant is willing to forget the massacre of the past for the sake of peace today. The officer crumbles up the message and throws it on the ground.

At home Feliza watches as her rebel father practices his shooting by firing at water melons. When he finishes, he passes the pistol to his son Gabriel who is definitely not thrilled at the prospect of firing a weapon. The young man fires at, but misses the entire water melon. Father gets mad at his son for not concentrating and valuing father's trying to teach him how to defend himself. The son says that he has no enemies. That just makes dad even madder and he asks his son if he is a coward? Then dad goes into the house.

Dad doesn't like the sad expression on Feliza's face and asks her why is she acting this way? Feliza says because she feels bad for her brother Gabriel. "You're too hard on him." Dad replies: "Feel sorry when he can't defend himself against the abusive Spanish soldiers." Dad says that the Spanish are brutal to the natives. He shows her the scar he received from a Spanish bayonet when he was only 15 years old. And his sister Soledad was raped right before dad's eyes. They complained to the church, but the church was more interested in the rights of the rapist.

Feliza and Celso paddle on the river in a small boat. Feliza asks him if he is happy serving the Spanish? Celso says he joined the Spanish Army because he thought he would be sent to Spain. He wanted to locate his father there. His mother is from Pampanga. She met his father, who came here from Madrid, when he was just 16 years of age and was stationed in Pampanga. When Celso was 11 years old, his father's mother became very ill and he went back to see her in Spain. Mother and father have not see each other since then.

Dad meets with some of the rebel leaders in the yard of his house. He says Quezon and his son Pedro are missing the meeting. Father also says that since the signing of the peace treaty, the main problem is that many Filipino groups are acting on their own behalf.

Celso talks to his friend about Feliza. He says he met her when he was under the command of Captain Mota. His buddy says that Celso shouldn't be fooling around with any of the Filipino women because he may not get back to Pampanga alive. But the grip of love on Celso's heart is too strong to listen to nay-sayers.

The two lovers walk along the beach. Celso says when they start a family it will be when they are in Spain. He will teach the children how to speak Spanish. Feliza tells him he can start by teaching her puppy dog Bravo some Spanish. It's dark now and they are still on the beach with a nice fire going nearby.

When Feliza returns home, her mother tells her to help them pack. Father wants them to move to a safer place. There will be fighting here soon enough and everybody will be moving out.

Feliza's brother says a soldier asked him about her. He then asks if Feliza has done anything wrong? She asks: "Why are you asking me that? " Because a soldier was asking about her.

Feliza remembers back to the time that she met Celso. She was walking with her friend Luming and they were accosted by a drunken soldier. Celso intervened and sent the drunk away. Then he asked for the names of the pretty girls. They tell him. Just then Celso's friend Lope comes over and asks to be introduced. Celso introduces Lope.

A Spanish officer tells his men that their Aeta friends found a document in the woods. The document is from their enemies, but the Spanish don't trust the Aetas. The document says the rebels have gained in strength and are planning another attack. So the men are to stay away from all the locals here. In fact, the men will not even be allowed to leave their barracks. They can't afford to meet the fate of Lt. Jose Mota.

Gabriel loves to help the priest at their church. He becomes an altar boy. In church Celso sees Feliza. At the church Gabriel is being taught Spanish by the priest.

At home father balls out Gabriel for always being with the Spanish priest. He calls Gabriel a fool who is being used by the priest. Gabriel says he goes to the church of his own free will. So dad strikes him with a wooden rod. Gabriel says that he wants to become a priest. This makes father furious, as he says: "They're using God to control us." He hits Gabriel again and breaks the rod.

Later, mother, named Azon, says to her husband Daniel that she's worried about what is going on in the house. He tells to just keep an eye on the children for even Feliza is talking back to him now. Azon asks why does he have to bring the church into this discussion? She is afraid that their souls will burn in hell. Daniel says we are already in hell.

Feliza sees Celso at the church again and they both smile at each other. She tells her mother that she will go to confession. She tells the priest about her problems because she loves a man who her parents are opposed to. Celso has slipped into the confession booth on the other side of the priest and he confesses that he didn't keep his appointment with the girl that he loves. Soon, the two young people are talking past the priest to agree to a meeting place and a time.

At home mother asks if that young soldier is courting Feliza? She says she found this letter from him to her and she wants to know how long has this been going on? She continues with: "He is Spanish!" Feliza says only on his father's side. Mother warns her daughter that father may kill Feliza for this.

Father introduces rebel Col. Villacorte to a group of recruits who want to join the rebel ranks. The Colonel asks about the patriot Novicio's orders? Dad says he hasn't seen the man ever since the ceasefire. Novicio dropped out of politics altogether. The Colonel says that everyone knows the ceasefire has been broken.

Col. Villacorte has now some 800 men under him. He thinks this number will soon grow to over a thousand. Daniel says that with that number of men they should be able to crush the forces of Captain Las Morenas.

Celso tells Feliza that he must talk to her father, but Feliza says her father will kill him. Celso in sure that he can convince her father to accept him. Feliza says no he won't accept Celso.

April 1898. Feeling that a rebel attack will happen soon, the army decides to fortify the church with water and supplies and use it as a defensive position in case of an emergency.   

Mr. Novicio goes to speak with the Spanish captain. He denies that he has anything to do with the rebels. So the captain asks him to identify the men on a long list who are working with the rebels. Novicio refuses to do this and walks out.

Battle of Manila Bay, May 1, 1898.

President Aguinaldo declares Philippine Independence, June 12, 1898.

Feliza runs into Luming who tells Feliza that Celso asks that Feliza meet him at the usual place tonight. Feliza says the family is leaving the area this very night. Luming tells her to go home and pack up her things because she and Celso will be eloping tonight. Feliza says this is much too dangerous.

Father and mother come up to the two girls and Luming walks away. Her parents say that they have to leave now. In fact, lots and lots of people are moving away from Baler for the safety of their families.

On the march, Gabriel breaks away from from family and runs back to Baler. Feliza asks her father to go after her brother, but dad says that Gabriel has made his decision and now he will have to live with that.

Celso shows up at the designated place and time, but Feliza is not there. The two soldiers with Celso start to worry about him and think that the rebels may have taken him. They find Celso, who tells the guys he was trying to chase a rebel, but lost him. The three soldiers go back to patrolling their regular area.

June 29, 1898. Celso is having lunch with his fellow soldiers. All of a sudden rebel bullets come sailing through the windows of the mess hall hitting one of the soldiers. A bullet also seems to hit Captain Las Morenas. This time the rebels even have a piece of artillery to bomb the barracks. The soldiers fight their way outside and start running for the church. And now a big wave of rebels descends on the church.

The rebels stop firing and tell the "sissy girls" to come out and fight. They laugh at their own joke.

Gabriel is at the church and the priest tells him to go home for he does not need his help for now ceremonies are being carried out by the priest. Gabriel says he wants to stay in the church. It now is his home he says.

Daniel runs up to the church and calls for the Spanish "bastards" to release his son. Gabriel hears his father, but he tells the priest that he has been more of a father to him (Gabriel) than his own father ever was.

The Colonel says they will starve the 57 or so men in the church.

Of course, Feliza is very worried about her father, brother and boyfriend. They all could be killed in this siege of the church. Luming comes over and sits down beside Feliza. She says that she knows what Feliza is going through because she and Lope are also in love.

In the church Celso tells Gabriel that he should leave because the rebels could attack at any time. It would be a waste for Gabriel to throw his life away. Gabriel says the rebels might not attack at all.

For the first time Daniel puts on his officer's uniform.

The Captain in the church sees that Novicio is now fighting alongside the rebels. Las Morenas says the man is a traitor. He has the men get into formation and count off. The total number comes out to be 46. The captain asks who is the person that is missing because they are supposed to have 47 men. A non-commissioned officer says that Jaime Caldenay is missing.

The captain looks outside and see Daniel out there standing with Caldenay. Caldenay shouts to the Captain that the news from Manila is that Spain has already lost the war. He asks Las Morenas to surrender, but the Captain says they don't know the meaning of that word.

Now the refugees are told that they can all go back to Baler for the war is over. Feliza and Luming want to know how many casualties have there been. Only three for the rebels but many more for the Spanish. The two women worry that their sweethearts may be among the wounded or killed.

Inside the church, Celso plays with the puppy Bravo. Outside the rebel officers confer but decide to wait the Spanish out.

Inside the church Lope sees Celso writing a letter to Feliza. He asks if Celso will write a letter for him to Luming? Lope says he's not good at writing letters.

The refugees return home. Daniel tells his wife he is taking some bananas to the men. Feliza says she also will take the men something.

Captain Las Morenas tells Celso to go up to the roof of the church and set up the Spanish flag they have with them. Celso takes the puppy with him. Up in the belfry Celso sees Feliza handing out food to the rebels. He shakes some plants with fuzzy seeds and the pieces of fluff flying in the air catch the interest of Feliza. She looks up and sees Celso in the belfry. He waves to her. The soldier standing next to Feliza also sees Celos. Furious he takes a shot at Celso and just misses him.

Four natives of the Philippines talk about surrendering to the rebels and going back home.

Feliza asks permission to go to the church and bring her brother back with her. The Colonel says it's too dangerous because the enemy could use Feliza as a hostage. Or they could rape Feliza.

The men in the church have very little food left. Everybody is famished and some of the soldiers even faint with each other.

The local women are asking when will this siege be over? They say they haven't had mass in over a month. Daniel tells them to go to the church in the next town, but the women say that is much too far away. They even say that God will punish them for this.

So the two groups permit an outdoor mass to be held for the villagers. It is well-attended. Feliza and Luming are happy to see that Gabriel is safe and sound and looking healthy. The soldiers attend the mass just on the other side of the church door. The priest is so weak that he collapses. Gabriel and the soldiers carry the father inside the church.

Lt. Col Simon Tecson arrives with 500 Filipino troops. He says there is a report that the Americans are on their way here and they will drive out the Spanish troops. But the new republic wants the Spanish to surrender themselves to the Filipino forces, instead of the American forces. They believe American intervention might be quickly followed by other interventions by the Americans.

September 25, 1898, 88th day of the siege. Gabriel cries over the dead body of the priest, his surrogate father. Celso and Lope tell Gabriel to go home now. Celso gives the boy a big hug. He also gives him letters for Feliza and Lope. As Gabriel comes out of the church, his sister and Luming run to him and give him a big hug. His father now comes over and gives him a big hug.  The two young women grill Gabriel about the health of Celso and Lope. At night Feliza reads by the light of a lantern the letter written to her by Celso.

The rebels send a message to Captain Las Morenas to surrender his arms within 20 hours. They promise they will respect the lives and interests of the Spanish. If the Spanish force them to attack, there will be no mercy for any Spanish person inside the church.

Las Morenas writes back that death is preferable to dishonor. The rebels can commence firing anytime they want to.

And now Las Morenas can no longer stand or sit up. He lays on a couch. Las Morenas dies.

The attack begins anew. The Spanish fire at the attackers, but the attack is soon called off. Meantime, Celso realizes that the officer that had been standing next to him has been killed by a shot to his forehead. He is buried inside the church.

October 21, 1898, 117th day of siege. Another man takes over command of the troops. He will continue the stance of his two predecessors and keep fighting until the arrival of their reinforcements or death.

Col. Villacordes' superior officer tells his officers that President Aquinaldo's orders is only to force the men to surrender, not kill them all. The group decides to hold a celebration to show those inside the fort that they are happy and feasting.

The new Spanish commander tells all his men to stay away from the windows and doors. The rebels know they are starving inside the church and this is only a ploy to get the Spanish to surrender. When one of the men starts crying, the commander berates him and threatens to shoot him in the head if he cries again.

The commander sends out Celso and Lope to go outside and try to sneak to the village, create a diversion by setting a fire to one of the village huts and grabbing as much food as they can. Lope sets one of the huts afire and grabs some food. Celso gets close enough to Feliza that he and she can embrace each other. She gives him her large bowl of food.

Feliza brings a message for the Spanish. Celso volunteers to go get the message. Feliza tells him that the Filipinos will give them enough food to eat and wine to drink. He hands her another letter. She gives him a jug of wine (?) and a box of cigars.

The Spanish commandant sends Lope out to give the locals a bottle of sherry and some Cuban cigars for their generosity. Lope volunteered because he knew he could see Luming up close.

At dawn the ceasefire is over and the men in the church go back to their battle positions. The Spanish open the hostilities by killing some of the rebels. Some of the Spanish soldiers are also killed.

Celso puts a little rope with a message for Feliza around Bravo's neck and puts him outside the church door with instructions to go to Feliza. The puppy wines at the church door and scratches to get in.

Later Celso sees the fellows eating some meat. He asks them where did they get the food? They don't answer him. He asks for one of the men to give him some of the food. As he moves forward to get the food, he sees the note and rope that were around Bravo's neck on the ground. He realizes his comrades are eating the puppy. He is upset and furious but he does not strike out against the men.

Feliza and Luming take a water buffalo over to the rebels.  Inside the church, the men are starving to the point that they are not functional for battle. Celso seems the most fit of all the guys. He looks through the crack between the two church doors and sees the water buffalo. The men inside start going crazy.  The men bring the water buffalo in, they kill it and cook it. And then they eat it.

At home Feliza and her family are having a good time at dinner. But after dinner, mother notices a bulge in Feliza's clothing. She demands to know who did this to her? Feliza asks for her mother's forgiveness and for her not to mention this to  father. But then Feliza starts bleeding.

A woman is brought in to examine Feliza. She tells the mother that Feliza just needs a lot of rest for it is a delicate pregnancy. If they are not careful, Feliza could have a miscarriage.

After the woman leaves, Feliza hears her father say that Feliza had sexual intercourse with the enemy. Dad also asks Azon how many months has she known about this? Azon says she knows how furious Daniel becomes and so she did not tell him.

Now Daniel goes inside the other room to scream at Feliza.  He wants her to tell him that she made a big mistake and she does not love the enemy soldier. She only says: "I love him." He claims that she has no respect for her father. He tells her not to go outside ever because he has so little face to save now. He adds that he doesn't care if the child lives. Feliza cries.

In the church the Spanish hear the sounds of gunfire. The commander concludes that their reinforcements have arrived. There is a round of cheers in the church. But it looks like the Filipinos are battling American sailors. So the atmosphere in the church becomes desperate once again. One soldier breaks out crying. Celso and Lope have not even seen their women in months.

The native Filipinos start planning a way to escape from the church.

Feliza has her baby.

The commander says he admires Celso and when they get out of this situation he is going to recommend him for a promotion.

May 28, 1899. 333rd day of siege. A member of the clergy and a rebel spokesman go in to see the commander. They tell him that Spain has now acknowledged their defeat in the war. All Spanish forces in Puerto Rico, Guam and Cuba have surrendered.

The commander calls the two representatives liars for how could mighty Spain lose to a bunch of Indians? The soldiers toss the representatives out of the church.

The half-Spanish locals make their move for freedom. Lope and another man make it out the door, but Celso is delayed by Mauro, who hesitates too long. When the commander awakens and asks what is going on, Mauro quickly points his gun at Celso and tells the commander this man was trying to escape. The commander is shocked at this.

Meanwhile, Lope and the other escapee reach the other side. Daniel immediately slugs Lope to the ground and asks him where is Celso? He says Celso escaped with him, but he doesn't know if Celso succeeded or not.

The commander calls Celso a traitor. Celso replies that the commander wants all the soldiers to die even though the war is over.

Luming sees Lope walking with some soldiers. The two run to each other and embrace.

The commander sees a newspaper from Madrid. He picks it up just to marvel at the ingenuity of the rebels to produce a fake newspaper. In the paper is the news of the commander's friend marrying the woman that the commander loves. And the marriage will take place in Malaga which the couple had earlier told the commander.

Other rebel officers try to convince Daniel that there is no basis for sending Lope Tabuena to prison. And now Lope is on their side. They suggest that Daniel wants to send the young man to prison because he is a friend of Celso.

Daniel comes into Feliza's room to hold his grandson.

Lope tells Feliza that when he escaped, Celso was right behind him, but when he turned to look back, he did not see Celso. He doesn't know what happened to Celso.   

The commander says he has found irrefutable truth that Spain has been defeated. It's now time for them to go home.

June 2, 1899. 338th day of siege. The church doors are opened wide and the Spanish soldiers come out into the sunlight to the applause of the people waiting outside. The commander tells Daniel that he is Lt. Saturnino Martin-Cerezo. He now signs a document of surrender.

Feliza runs into the church only to find Celso dead from a shot to the heart. She hugs his body and cries.

Flashback. The commander has Mauro shoot Celso. Mauro asks Celso to forgive him and then shoots Celso, whose last words were: "I love you, Feliza."

Back to the present. Little Celso is a young boy now and the Americans are in charge.

"And this love story ends in Baler. The story of my parents, Celso and Feliza. "

"Of the 57 men who entered the church of Baler on June 29, 1898, only 33 survived the siege. Lt. Martin Cerezo and his troops surrendered to the Philippine Republican Army led by Lt. Colonel Simon Tecson. "

 

A nice love story set in the time of the Spanish-American War.  Feliza loves Celso, but her parents don't like the fellow because he is a member of the Spanish army.  (Celso is only half-Spanish and a local.)  As it that weren't obstacle enough between the two lovers, the war separates the two of them.  Feliza's father is one of the rebel leaders who helps lead the siege of the local church where some 57 Spanish soldiers have taken refuge.  And the siege lasts a long time.  The acting was good. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


 

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