I do not know much, I’m just an ordinary viewer after all. I only felt tremors of what should have been an earth-shattering experience.
Citizen Jake (2018). I fancied a much more complex plot, a more multi-faceted protagonist, and an expectation for some out-of-the-ordinary cinematics. Maybe I should have watched the previous Mike de Leon works; maybe I would have been able to appreciate it more.
The story is of Jake Herrera (Atom Araullo, whose raw acting was a blend of hits and misses), he narrates it; the protagonist haunted by and at the center of tragedy by a sinister past that refuses to let go and be damned. His personal demons, the mother who suddenly disappeared and the father whose politics are tied to the late dictator Marcos, put him in constant clash with his anti-social personality and Lone Ranger-esque crusade for social justice.
The violent death of a student of his intimate colleague Mandy (Max Collins) sets in motion a series of unfortunate events that reveals the duplicity and vileness of human nature, the persistence of infamy, and the struggle between memory and forgetting, of truth versus whitewashing.
As a film of this present time, it bares the harrowing truth that the specter of Ferdinand Marcos never died and that the forces for the resurrection of his dynasty have always been alive, working slowly, quietly, and now have entered the halls of power. It is a critique of the betrayal in which we live, namely, the democracy of the post-EDSA ‘86 years. Political accommodation and compromise, as shown by Don Jacobo Herrera (Teroy Guzman), defiled the new democracy. And ironic as it may seem, it was through this new democracy that the Marcoses thrived once again in Philippine politics.
Mandy says in the film that the eventual return of the Marcoses is due to the Filipinos’ poor historical memory. I disagree. It’s not that we have a poor memory for history, we have a tenacious way of remembering, although in a twisted way. Our propensity for historical amnesia is in part due to having no effective history keepers. The political statements of Citizen Jake are defined, evident. But it tackles so much yet fails to sufficiently explore, give depth to each.
The film’s take on human nature is on point: relationships are manipulated and maintained in the name of self-preservation as in the case of Jonie (Luis Alandy), class differences undermine solidarity, the cold rationality of elite rule continues to hold, and the reality that humans never learn from history as the old professor Lucas (Lou Veloso) laments. There is one scene where Lucas was asked by a student how it feels to be tortured, to which he candidly answers, “Masakit”. I must admit that I was taken in by this passing scene and shows the estrangement of people, especially the young, from our tragic history.
It’s an “okay” sort of film with a critical and relevant lesson, one which we badly need now. It appeals to the mind but lacks the necessary pathos to move the heart. And it seems to be more challenging to be appreciated by the masa.
In my opinion, what the film lacked in cinematic impact, it boosted in message and relevance. We are at the crossroads of our political history, and the challenge to whether or not we vindicate our past struggles for democracy is in the crucible. The film bids the viewer to recognize the patterns of history, to review them critically, and to reevaluate our values, and the irony that democracy breeds its own executioners—because only those we trust can betray us.