Dr. Jose Rizal's Noli Me Tangere portrayed in a so clear and sympathetic way the lives of Filipino people and has produced a real piece of literature. Enter Gerardo de Leon, film director-writer. Aside from technical expertise, ambiguity has been his most manifest trait. But never has this been more pronounced than in his film version of Noli Me Tangere (Bayanihan / Arriva Productions). What sets Noli apart is its quasi-official nature. Intended as the story of a Filipino's belief about great injustice, it normally would have, in these polarized times, two orientations to choose from, conservatism or radicalism. Gerardo de Leon, however, steers Noli away clear of any such commitment, his achievement in this regard is the movie's prime virtue. De Leon's earlier efforts were better than the average Filipino director's output. Here, the apparent attempt is to state that politics is never a matter of dichotomy, that social contradiction may demonstrate dialectical modes of behavior, but not necessarily according to the expectations dictated by academic idealism. Noli tells the story of Crisostomo Ibarra (Eddie del Mar), a Filipino who returns to his motherland after having completed his studies in Europe. In his honor, Don Tiago (Engracio Ibarra) throws him a welcome party attended by Padre Damaso (Oscar Keesee), Dona Victorina (Lilian Laing) and the town's most prominent figures. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Guevarra (Manuel Ojeda) reveals the incidents preceding the death of his father Don Rafael. The following day, Crisostomo visits Maria Clara (Edita Vidal), their long-standing love clearly manifested in this meeting. He carries out his father's plans of building a school believing that education would pave the way to his country's liberation. Crisostomo becomes the hunted as he gets implicated in a staged revolution. Together with Elias (Leopoldo Salcedo), he flees town but as luck would have it, they were shot by the civil guards eventually killing Elias. Maria Clara, hopeless and disillusioned begs Padre Damaso to confine her into a nunnery unaware that Crisostomo had survived and was able to escape. Before the film's end, Crisostomo finds Basilio (Eddie Ilagan) in the forest and helps him bury his lifeless mother Sisa (Lina Carino).
Although the film is weakened by the incompetence to weave an alternative historiography to which reality must be indebted, Noli infuses the Rizal question with subtle but sparkling imagination. Occasional heavy-handedness sets in when the film makes didactic attempts at value reorientation. Production design, cinematography and editing are above par compared with standard industry outputs, acting is low key and works well in most cases. De Leon's straightforward style somewhat falters after more than three hours of utility though, not withstanding the presence of big-time performers. Instead, he opts for a measure of sad success by playing his politics both ways. De Leon in Noli manages to flesh out political and class tension in the act of depicting social change . On the basis of his humanistic emphases, here and in his earlier films, one may allow him the benefit of the doubt. Like it or not, Noli Me Tangere is a major Filipino movie, the industry's significant output for an uncertain decade. As for De Leon, one can at least admire the daring by which he tackles complex political ramifications, infusing the attempts with a serene diplomacy surprising for its rarity hereabouts. His ability to control a material so complicated in its details and so earnest in its yearning to effectively disseminate the action of society. Noli's novelistic narrative may fumble in its attempt to explore character and weave milieu into dramaturgy, but the film emerges from the thickets with engaging moments and stirring energies. Noli Me Tangere's strength lies not so much in its technique as in its affecting vision of sacrifice.
Directed By: Gerardo de Leon
Screenplay By: Dr. Gerardo de Leon And Jose Flores Sibal
Directors Of Photography: Emmanuel Rojas & Arsenio Banu
Music Composed & Directed By: Tito Arevalo
Editors: Victoriano Calub And Joven Calub
Production Design: Carlos V. Franciso
Produced By: Bayanihan And Arriva Productions
Release Date: June 17, 1961
The author is eternally grateful to Alexis Tioseco for entrusting me with the only existing videotape copy of Gerry de Leon's Noli Me Tangere. You'll forever live in our hearts.