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In 1898, Spain sends a military squad to the town of Baler, Philippines, to protect one of the last colonies of the Spanish Empire, to avoid rebellious natives from recovering its ancient territories. Lead by Captain Enrique de las Morenas and Lieutenant Cerezo, proud military men, the soldiers are stalked by night by the rebels, and are forced to seek refuge in the church run by Fray Carmelo, Baler's priest. Turning the church into a military fort, the unrelenting heat and malaria starts to sweep across the men. After the Captain's death by a disease called beriberi, Cerezo steps in as the new leader of the squad, faced with a constant power struggle with Jimeno, a soldier from the previous squad annihilated by the rebels. Becoming more and more paranoid and obsessive with the victory and the glory of the Spanish Empire, the rebels close to Cerezo explain that Spain has already sold the Philippine Islands to the USA, ceding all the colonies from the Spanish Empire, and that the war ...Written by
The Last Desperate Gasps Of The Once Mighty Spanish Empire
"1898" actually opens in 1897, as a Spanish garrison in the isolated Philippine town of Baler is massacred by Filipino rebels fighting for Philippine independence from Spain. A few months later a small detachment of young and inexperienced Spanish soldiers arrives to find out what happened. Taking refuge in a local church, they also come under attack from the rebels, which eventually results in an almost year long and hopeless (for the Spanish) siege.
I knew nothing about the siege of Baler until I watched this movie. It's obviously set in the dying days of the once mighty Spanish Empire. Not only are the Spanish fighting the Filipino rebels, the Spanish-American War has also broken out, and the last of Spain's colonial possessions are in the process of falling to the Americans. This siege continues past the Spanish surrender to the United States, and past the official transfer of sovereignty over the Philippines to the United States. These are, quite literally, the last few dozen Spanish soldiers fighting for the glory of the Empire - an Empire that they either don't realize or won't accept has fallen. Even once given evidence in the form of Spanish newspapers reporting the end of the war, the commander of the Spanish troops in the church refuses to believe that Spain is defeated and insists on fighting on, in spite of increasing hunger and sickness among his men; in spite of the desire of more and more of the Spanish under his command to give up; in spite of a few desertions. It's the pride of Empire here; national pride that simply won't bend, even in the face of indisputable reality. The sense of desperation among the Spanish was authentically portrayed, and the scenes of the siege are convincing. Because it is a siege, there's only limited portrayals of actual warfare. The bulk of the movie is about conditions inside the church, and the situation of the Spanish men facing them. And it does seem authentic.
Because I knew nothing about the siege of Baler, I did do some reading after watching this movie. I can see that a few details were changed or omitted - in particular a failed attempt to rescue the besieged Spanish, ironically enough made by the Americans after Spain had surrendered (although we were shown a number of dead American troops near the town, which might be a reference to that, no mention was made that they were involved in a rescue attempt.) But, generally speaking, as far as I've been able to find out this is a pretty accurate depiction of what happened at Baler, as the Spanish Empire fought its last battle. And while there may be a handful of minor inaccuracies, I can't honestly say that they're important enough to make me downgrade this movie. This is a Spanish movie, filmed in Spanish, so if subtitles bother you this will likely not be an enjoyable experience. They didn't bother me, though. This presented, I thought, a powerful reflection on the agonizing last months of the Spanish Empire. (10/10)
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