The Mark Meily-helmed Baler was the second film that I watched at the 2008 Metro Manila Film Festival (I first watched Dayo). It would have been the third since my girlfriend and I wanted something light and funny, but the queue for the film festival's comedies were longer than a Star Wars fanboy line in a film premiere.
Anyways, the decision to watch Baler earlier was a good one. The film is based on the historical event known as "The Siege of Baler," where 57 Spanish soldiers held fort in the town of Baler for almost one year (October 1898 to June 1899) during the final moments of the Spanish occupation in the Philippines. The film's story is actually a romance between a Filipino-Spanish soldier (played by Jericho Rosales) and a Filipina Baler native (played by Anne Curtis). The Romeo & Juliet-inspired love story is given a "romance in the time of war" twist.
As a film fan, I can say that Baler is already the best movie in the film festival-- the craftsmanship is definitely there. There were nice shots of the Baler town in its rural glory and the acting of Jericho Rosales and Anne Curtis is commendable. Even the supporting cast of Philip Salvador, Carlo Aquino, Rio Locsin, Nikki Bacolod and Mark Bautista had strong performances in the film.
However, I do have my nitpicks: First and foremost is the flimsy production of the Baler church where the Spanish soldiers held fort. It didn't look authentic at all and you could see how unreal it was. Second is the miscast of Anne Curtis as Feliza, the lead female character. I was wondering if there other actresses with better Filipina physical features that were more appropriate for the role. And finally, as the film wanted to be authentic to the historical events, the movie dragged on from the middle towards the end as the film tried to show the boredom and hopelessness of the Spanish soldiers as they were holed up for more than 300 days.
Baler is a good addition to the list of Philippine war epic films. And in a film festival filled with movies that aim to be commercial successes, Baler looks to be a critical and creative triumph.