We all know how it ended…but what about the story leading up to their deaths? We review the MMFF hit “GomBurZa”
We’ve all heard of GomBurZa—a portmanteau of the names of three priests: Mariano Gomez, José Burgos and Jacinto Zamora—at some point. We’ve been told in our history classes that these priests were executed using the garrote. If you find yourself asking why you should watch the MMFF entry GomBurZa when you already know the ending, here’s the thing—there’s more to the story than we’ve been told.
Directed by Pepe Diokno, GomBurZa brings to light the untold story of the three martyrs and their struggles as half-blooded priests (half-Spanish and half-Filipino) and the events that led to their unjust deaths during the Spanish colonial period. The three stood for the secularization movement—they wanted Filipino priests to have more rights and power over the country’s parishes, which were being commanded by the friars back then.
GomBurZa bagged seven awards in the 49th Metro Manila Film Festival including Second Best Picture, Best Sound, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography and the Gatpuno Antonio Villegas Cultural Award. Pepe Diokno won Best Director while Cedrick Juan took home Best Actor for this portrayal of José Burgos. While it’s his first Best Actor award—certainly not his last—Cedrick is not a newcomer, having been in the theatre, TV and film industry for 10 years and counting.
While we know GomBurZa as heroes, did you know that they were wrongfully accused of being involved in the Cavite Mutiny—a revolt by 200 Filipino soldiers and workers in the Cavite arsenal? The three were swept into unfortunate situations and blamed for things they didn’t do, thus leading to their execution. For one, Zamora who’s a gambler, received a message containing the words “powder and munitions,” which was taken against him and used as a justification for his death. It may sound like the message refers to weapons, but for gamblers, it just conveys that one has money for gambling.
The execution of the priests was made public, with Jose Rizal and his older brother Paciano—a student of Padre Burgos—witnessing their deaths. Eventually, this lit a flame that ignited the revolutionary movement that inspired Rizal to write his iconic book, El Filibusterismo.
Thoughts on “GomBurZa”
I can say with all my heart that these accolades are truly well-deserved. The film’s cinematography, production and acting were impressive. Every person in the cast played and carried their characters well even if they were not playing the titular role.
What I appreciated most was Cedrick Juan’s performance throughout the whole film, as he was able to express even the most subtle of emotions with his facial expressions and tone of voice. There were moments wherein he was speaking Spanish and Latin yet despite the language difference, he was able to effectively showcase his emotions.
I applaud Enchong Dee, too, who played Zamora. Despite his character’s limited screen time, he managed to capture the hearts of movie-goers. I was deeply upset seeing Zamora spiral—from being a happy-go-lucky priest who enjoys gambling to being a devastated prisoner who’s about to die.
The story was moving and emotional; at the cinema, we broke out into applause by the end of the film. Personally, two scenes stood out for me. The first is GomBurZa being wrongfully accused of their involvement in the Cavite mutiny in a court by the Spaniards. While all of them were angered at the false accusations thrown at them, you’ll notice the nuances in their reactions, with Zamora being the most distraught. The second is the garrote scene, wherein the three priests, along with other Filipinos who were accused of being involved in the revolution, were executed. I was squirming in my seat, but I believe that’s the point. It should be uncomfortable to watch, and you should feel infuriated seeing innocent people, especially our countrymen, die in such a brutal way.
Unlike the grand, action-packed historical films that we had in the past like Jerrold Tarog’s Heneral Luna and GOYO: Ang Batang Heneral, what sets GomBurZa apart is its groundedness and solemness. The film is really empowering, too, with a message that encourages us to speak what is true—especially in this era of fake news that can have dire consequences—and fight against the injustices we see around us. After all, one can empower others without the use of guns or swords, and GomBurZa and Rizal are proof of that.
However, the film sometimes felt a bit disjointed, especially during the transitions from one chapter to the next. Moreover, the movie mainly focused on Burgos and the two other priests felt like side characters; I hoped that more focus and depth would have been given to the characters of Zamora and Gomez as well. Doing so would have made the moments wherein they were unjustly accused and eventually accepted their fate bear much more weight.
Nonetheless, GomBurZa is a must-watch. It may be a film about historical events—bringing to light the story of the three martyr priests—but it makes us think and ask questions that are relevant to date. The film reminds us of the importance of learning from our past so that history won’t repeat itself, as well as how our national heroes fought for the freedom that we currently enjoy. But then again, are we ever truly free? With the injustices that we're faced with, what do we stand and fight for as Filipinos?
Words MJ Viernes
Art Macky Arquilla