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Laramie Movie Scope:

Unbiased dramatization of combatants in Philippine war

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(2011, English and Filipino) In 1900 on Luzon of The Philippine Islands, US soldiers enter the baryo of San Isidro while chasing insurrectionists. After being released from confinement, Father Hidalgo (Yul Vazquez), a Spaniard held in captivity with others, identifies for the Americans the barrio's kapitan, Rafael Dacanay (Joel Torre), who says in Filipino: "Amigo. I am a good friend."

Questioned about the whereabouts of the barrio's young men, Rafael (whom the Americans nickname Amigo) says through a translator that they have gone into hiding or fighting with the rebels, as has his teenage son Joaquinito. Further, Rafael's brother Simón (Ronnie Lazaro) is the local head of a guerilla group.

Leaving the company with four Chinese coolies to perform manual labor, Col Hardacre (Chris Cooper) orders Lt Compton (Garret Dillahunt) to establish a garrison in the barrio: "We're supposed to be winning their hearts and minds." Referring to Rafael, Lt Compton informs the priest, who becomes the only means of communication between the Americans and the Filipinos: "It's his head if there's trouble."

In answer to some of the elderly men's worrisome inquiry about upsetting the revolutionaries if they're seen to be cooperating with the invaders, Rafael says to "keep one eye open," as he does with his untrustworthy brother-in-law Nenong in his own household. In this drama of the Philippine-American war, writer/director John Sayles personalizes without favoritism the combatants of the conflict, as well as the villagers (men and women) and even the Chinese coolies.

As Lt Compton reads general orders to the people of the baryo, with Fr Hidalgo translating, the guerillas listen to General Aguinaldo's instructions to deal mercilessly with the invaders and any traitors. Slipping away while a sentry attends to nature's call (the American soldiers lack discipline), Rafael, responding to a message sent inside a coconut shell, meets with Simón, accepting the duty to be the eyes and ears among the enemy.

Each side though Christian regards the other's God as false: in earlier days Simón had been a seminarian with an ambition to become an archbishop; Rafael's wife Corazón (Rio Locsin) questions Fr Hidalgo whether killing in war (acceptable if a holy cause, says the priest) if both sides are Christians is a sin. During weeks of the monsoon there's a lull in the fighting along with relaxation of tensions in the barrio, with soldiers drinking tuba (the local hooch) and a Texan fraternizing with a female.

However, Col Hardacre returns with new, stricter orders, removing the carrot: "It is time to employ the stick." In the guerillas' hideout the rebels, worrying about losing the favor of the baryos, decide that Rafael has become a collaborator in need of elimination. In war things must be done that would not be acceptable otherwise, Simón explains to Joaquinito, as Locsin is sent to assassinate Rafael.

In San Isidro, Lt Compton determines that democracy must be instilled among the local population - "The will of the people is sacred" - introducing an election (only for males 21 years and older, mostly older and illiterate) to choose a new kapitan. Frustrated by his inability to find the insurgents and betting the kapitan knows where they are, Col Hardacre orders that Amigo, who senses he's doomed no matter what happens, be tortured by a type of waterboarding (water forced through a large tube directly into the subject's mouth) until he reveals the whereabouts of the enemy.

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Copyright © 2013 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

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