3rd World Hero opens with a prologue; we see cut-to-cut stills from an elementary school textbook featuring various Philippine national symbols. It ends with a frame that says “National Hero – Jose Rizal” (Figure 1). The narrator introduces two main characters – a director and a screenwriter – brainstorming on a Rizal film project. It becomes clear that this is a meta-film, a film within a film.
The two filmmakers embark on an investigative research to explore the cinematic potential of Rizal’s biography. We see a series of eclectic flash-cuts as the filmmakers review the “omnipresence” of Rizal in Philippine culture. Rizal had been canonized as a saint by folk religion, memorialised in the one-peso Philippine coin, and revered as a demi-god by filmmakers and historians. In addition, the national hero’s name had been used for every imaginable purpose – from naming streets to funeral homes. When the writer suggests a commemorative Rizal film for the Philippine centennial, the director dismisses it as tawdry, as though Rizal could be sold like a deodorant.
The filmmakers rummage through Rizal’s life and zero-in on a controversial document which allegedly contains the hero’s retraction of his writings, his renunciation of freemasonry and his full submission to the authority of the Catholic church. They are suspicious, believing the retraction to be out-of-sync with Rizal’s character and convictions.
The film then blurs space-time boundaries as it sends the two filmmakers on assignment to interview the key characters surrounding the hero’s life. Rizal’s mother Doña Teodora; siblings Paciano, Narcisa and Trining; his love interest, the Hong Kong-raised Irish woman Josephine Bracken; and Jesuit fraile Padre Balaguer all give testimonies of various shades of grey. The filmmakers finally come face-to-face with the man himself and they are frustrated that he does not provide the answers they need for their film project.
The two filmmakers end up with as many questions as they had in the beginning. 3rd World Hero reaches its open-ended dénouement: Rizal’s formidable body of work, and, indeed, the witness of his life as an exemplary nationalist, will continue to interrogate the validity of the retraction document.
A reprisal of the prologue featuring the intercut images of Philippine national symbols serves as the film’s epilogue. The end frame indicates “National Hero – Jose Rizal”. —senses of cinema
Miguel Pamintuan de Leon is a noted Filipino film director, cinematographer, scripwriter and film producer. His is also known as Mike de Leon. He was born in Manila on May 24, 1947 to Manuel de Leon and Imelda Pamintuan. His interest in filmmaking began when he pursued a master’s degree in Art History at the University of Heidelberg, Germany.
De Lion first made two short films namely: Sa Bisperas, 1972, and Monologo (Monologue), 1975. He established the Cinema Artists Philippines in 1975. He produced Lino Brocka’s Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag, while also acting as the said film’s cinematographer in 1975. For Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag, de Leon won best cinematography awarded by the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS).
De Leon’s films are a full reflection of the Filipino psyche that sought answer for questions on social class belonging, political absurdities, and fragmentations in various forms. His first major full-length work was, Itim (Black… read more