Josť Rizal (1998)




Director:  Marilou Diaz-Abaya. 

Starring:  Cesar Montano (Josť Rizal), Joel Torre (Crisostomo Ibarra/Simoun), Jaime Fabregas (Luis Taviel de Andrade), Gloria Diaz (Teodora Alonzo), Gardo Versoza (Andres Bonifacio), Monique Wilson (Maria Clara), Chin Chin Gutierrez (Josephine Bracken), Mickey Ferriols (Leonor Rivera), Pen Medina (Young Paciano), Peque Gallaga (Archbishop Bernardo Nozaleda, OP), Bon Vibar (Ramon Blanco), Subas Herrero (Alcocer), Tony Mabesa (Camilo de Polavieja), Alexis Santaren (Olive), Chiqui Xerxes-Burgos (Father Villaclara, SJ).

Filipino hero who is unjustly tried for treason by the colonial government



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

In the19th century Chile, Peru and Cuba rose against Spain and achieved their independence.  Philippine Spain faced a revolution due to mounting social unrest among the natives.  Thirty-five year old Josť Rizal was the greatest enemy of Spain in the Philippines.  With his exceptional linguistic ability (speaking twenty-two languages) and interest in the sciences and the arts, Rizal was most effective in his campaign for freedom as a writer.  He wrote two novels: Noli Me Tanger and El Filibusterismo.  These were scathing indictments of Spanish tyranny and of the church which came to acquire immense political power.

1891.  Ghent, Belgium.   Josť Rizal writes that he is writing a book about the Philippines to reveal the truth.  There are scenes of a priest having sex with a Philippine woman and beating a Philippine child.  He writes of "our sad country" and "our grievances and frustrations".  We meet one of his characters named Crisostomo Ibarra, who took another name Simoun. 

1895.  The Philippines.  The Katipunan "sons of the people" shout "Long live Dr. Josť Rizal." 

1896.  MalacaZang Palace.  Governor-General  Blanco presents the Spanish plan to advance on the province of Bulacan.  He says:  "We will crush the rebellion."   Monsignor Nozaleda arrives.  He virtually demands the elimination of the rabble-rouser Josť Rizal.

Guerrilla leader Bonifacio tells his Katipunan to tear up their cedulas

The Spanish torture Josť Rizal's brother Paciano.  They want to know what is the role of his brother in the rebellion. 

1896.  Rizal Residence, Tondo, Manila.  The family is packing to leave.  Paciano arrives home after his torture sessions.

November 1896.  Fort Santiago, Manila. The order is given to bring in Josť Rizal.  His interrogator tells Rizal that he knows that Rizal knows Bonifacio, founder of the Katipunan.  They know he met Bonifacio at a secret assembly at Doroteo Ongjunco's place.  Rizal is accused of being a traitor like Padre Burgos.  After all, Rizal had dedicated his last book to him:  "For the priests Francisco Gomez, Jose Burgos and Jacinto Zamora." 

Flashback.  Josť Rizal says that his brother Paciano was the one to open his eyes to the injustices in the Philippines.  Paciano had known Father Burgos and had witnessed his execution as well as those of the others. 

1869.  Calamba, Laguna.  As a youngster, Josť Rizal is called Pepe.  His mom is falsely arrested for attempting to poison her sister-in-law.  She is jailed for two years.  The Rizal family had disputes with the friars for years and the clergy got their revenge by teaching the family a lesson.  Pepe is sent to school.  His brother tells him not to use the family named of Mercado since the friars might hold it against him. 

1872.  Ateneo Municipal.  Pepe is praised at school for his work. 

Back to 1896.  Luis Taviel de Andrade of the Spanish army arrives to be Josť Rizal's defense council.  He does not seem too pleased with his assignment. 

Flashback.  1878.  The University of Saint Thomas.  The teacher has a Spanish student and a Philippine student stand before the class next to each other.  He notes the height difference between the superior Spanish and the inferior Philippine.  Josť Rizal rises to say that if height is of so much importance then why are so many of Spain's colonies gaining their independence from Spain.  The teacher responds:  "Impertinent!"

Back to 1896.  Rizal's novels are banned in the Philippines.  With a knife, the character Crisostomo threatens to kill the local priest for turning on his father and persecuting him.  His father died in prison and then the priest had his body dug up and thrown into the river.  Crisostomo says that he has lost his wife, child and family. 

Flashback.  Rizal speaks with his fellow students about Philippine independence.  The Spanish students call them monkeys and a fight breaks out.  Rizal is hit in the head with a thrown rock.  His Uncle Antonio bandages his wound.  Cousin Leonor then sits with him.  It is obvious that Rizal likes his cousin. 

Back to 1896.  The defense counsel asks why he would leave his beloved Leonor to travel to Europe.  His brother send him to Spain to study medicine, but also to be free to write about the Philippines. 

1884.  Central University of Madrid.  A group of Philippine students meet together to discuss the situation in their country.  A man named Agueller is there.  Josť Rizal speaks for independence. 

June 25, 1884.  Hotel Ingles, Madrid.  Two Philippine students Luna and Hidalgo, who were born in the Philipppines, won the university painting contest and are being honored. 

The authorities search the mayor's house.  He is arrested for having a Rizal book.  The friars have a book burning for copies of Rizal's books.  The novel character Ibarra is called a traitor because officials implicated him in a violent revolt.  He was discredited in the public's eye.    

January 1891. Madrid.  In the Philippine group of students, a call goes out for Del Pilar for President.  Josť Rizal is disgusted with the choice since they have almost opposite positions on independence.  He decides to return to the Philippines and walks out of the meeting.

July 1892. Manila.  Formation of the La Liga Filipina.  The young Andres Bonifacio enthusiastically responds to the speech given by Josť Rizal. 

Rizal says that the friars planted banned pamphlets in his luggage; he was arrested; and he was deported to the far-off island of Dapitan.  One saving grace, however, was that he met Josephine. 

Monsignor Nozaleda is still cursing the name of Josť Rizal.  He still demands that Governor-General Blanco eliminate the rebel.  The Governor-General pays a visit to the cell of Rizal.  Rizal scolds him:  "You made me believe I could go to Cuba only to be captured and imprisoned again." 

August 1896.  A Philippine revolt against the Spanish occurs.  Rizal takes the position that it is useless to revolt at this time because it is like suicide to face the overwhelming military might of the Spanish in the Philippines. 

Christmas.  At a formal dinner, Monsignor Nozaleda tells his fellow diners that Blanco is too friendly with Rizal.  Later Blanco is absolutely shocked when he is introduced to the new Governor-General of the Philippines, Polavieja. 

Ghent, Belgium.  Rizal receives a letter from the Philippines.  He is told of what happened in his home town of Calamba.  Because the town dared to protest against the friars' misuse of their land, the Spanish descended on the town and forced all the residents to evacuate.  Rizal is extremely mad and upset over the news.  Later he receives a letter from Leonor saying that her mother arranged a marriage for her to an Englishman against her wishes.  She does not even like the Englishman, much less want to marry him. 

Back to the present.  The defense counsel tells Rizal that he thought the second novel to be very sad.  The character of Ibarra was o.k., but in the character Simoun there is no light  -- his soul has been corrupted.  Simoun turns to violence against the Spanish imperialists.  He puts a bomb within a lantern with a flickering light that will be detonated when a diner guest tries to adjust the flame. Simoun believes that reforms are useless and that blood must be shed.   (Violence is prevented when a young filippino throws the lantern out of the window where it explodes outside.  The defense counsel asks if Rizal is becoming Simoun:  "You are using your novel to avenge yourself."  In the novel Simoun is shot in the back while running to escape the soldiers trying to capture him.  The defense counsel is so adamant and opinionated that it appears as if he is "tripping". 

The defense counsel attends a big formal ball at MalacaZang Palace.  Monsignor Nozaleda scolds him for working so hard for the traitor Rizal.  The defense counsel defends himself and the principal that everyman should have an effective defense in court, but another clergyman accuses him of being a traitor himself.  Excusing himself, the defense counsel leaves the ball. 

December 26, 1896.  The trial of Rizal begins.  The point is made that since 1892 Rizal has deliberately made it known to one and all that he will not longer discuss politics.  He was on the desolated island of Diapan for four years.  The prosecution claims that the rebel leader Bonifacio needed Rizal for an uprising.  The defense counters with the fact that when Dr. Valenzuela came to Diapan to get his support for the uprising, Rizal told him that it would only be suicide and that he would not support any uprising at this time. 

Flashback.  Diapan.  Josephine was a big help in Rizal's clinic on the island.  Josephine becomes pregnant with Rizal's child, but the baby boy dies shortly after birth and Rizal buries his son all alone. 

December 1896.  Rizal is given the death sentence.  His counsel tells him that it was a mock trial.  Rizal's mother begs the new Governor-General for mercy, but he only says:  "I'm sorry." 

December 29, 1896.  Bonifacio wants to try to save Rizal, but Rizal's brother Paciano argues against it because it would be useless.

In his jail cell, Rizal has an inner debate with the character Simoun, who tells him that he wants Rizal to rewrite the ending of the novel:  "Let the lamp explode" among the Spanish diners. 

December 30, 1986.  It is the day of execution.  Rizal is able to sneak out a final poem to his family.  At the execution he has to turn his back to the firing squad.  His lasts words were the shout: "It is done!" 

Bonifacio and his Katipunan ambush some Spanish soldiers killing most of them.  They also kill a Spanish priest.  The rebellion went ahead!

June 12, 1898.  General Emilio Aquinaldo raised the Philippine flag for the first time and declared independence.  A few years later, Dr. Josť Rizal was declared the National Hero of the Republic of the Philippines.


Good movie.  At times it was hard to follow because of the constant shifting between the then present 1896 to many different times in the past and back.  But it was worth the bit of confusion because it is such an interesting and important story.  The movie was mad by Filipinos for their centennial.   Cesar Montano was very good as the writer for Philippine independence Josť Rizal.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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