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'GomBurZa' review: Empowering tribute to Filipino martyrs

MANILA, Philippines, December 29 ------ Much has been documented about the revolutionary history of the Philippines, though much can still be learned about it as depicted in Pepe Diokno's entry to the 49th Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) "GomBurZa." 


The film borrows its name from three Filipino Catholic priests — Mariano Gomes, Jose Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora — who were executed by Spanish authorities on charges of subversion. Much of "GomBurZa" is seen through the eyes of Burgos, played by MMFF 2023 Best Actor Cedrick Juan, and the guidance he receives from Dante Rivero's Gomes and Piolo Pascual's Pedro Pelaez. A major thrust of the movie is the argument of Filipino priests for equal rights, pitting them against the Spanish friars upon which the physical groundwork for the Philippine revolution against the Spaniards would be set. 


MMFF 2023 Best Director Diokno and his production took great care into ensuring a historically accurate depiction of GomBurZa, hence a collaboration with Jesuit Communications and a number of historians. Some creative liberty was taken of course, as clearly seen toward the film's resolution plus the appearance of one individual who was so moved by the priests' deaths. The screenplay by Diokno and Rody Vera works best when it isn't feeding exposition or detailing facts from history, namely the casual conversations between characters particularly Enchong Dee's Zamora.   


A big credit goes to Juan for maintaining, and often surpassing, a degree of talent that veterans like Rivero and Pascual have mastered over the years; such an instance appears in a scene between Burgos and Gomes during their final hours together. In a way it helps that a relatively bigger name like Dee is tasked for Zamora, whose unfair accusations could be seen as more dire, to carry scenes on his own right until a heartbroken end that is far from unconvincing. Of the crafts, laurels should go to costume designer Steve Salvador, Ericson Navarro's winning production design, composer Teresa Barrozo, and the award-winning sound department led by Albert Michael Idioma — the latter perfecting the haunting garrote that ultimately takes the priests' lives. Diokno has cited patriotism as the reason why he helmed "GomBurZa," a sentiment not too far off from his namesake Jose "Pepe" Rizal who dedicated "El Filibusterismo" to the three priests. Words of patriotism, love of country, and equality ring multiple times through the film, but never to a point that it comes off preachy or self-righteous. The movie's greatest success would be serving as a visual tribute and lesson for generations of Filipinos about what Gomes, Burgos, and Zamora stood for, and the burning passion their deaths ignited. 




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