Baler centers on the love story between a Filipino-Spanish soldier, Celso and a Filipina, Feliza, in a time where there is also war happening between the Spanish soldiers and the Filipino troops.
Using the formalist approach, there are tensions and ironies in the film. First is the presence of war between Philippines and Spain. Although the battle for territory between these two countries is the general plot, there are several personal battles being fought by the characters, reflecting the existence of multiple plots.
Starting with the main characters, Celso and Feliza, they have the battle to fight for their forbidden love. The struggle to keep their love for each other alive exists as they each belong to the countries at war. Worse, Feliza’s father is one strong rebel to the Spaniards, reflecting that personal battle of Feliza if she will choose love over her family. Gabriel, the younger brother of Feliza, faces his battle of pursuing what he really wants as opposed to what his father wants him to be. He had always wanted to become a priest but his father was forcing him to be a soldier.
Meanwhile, Daniel, the father of Feliza and Gabriel, is also facing his battle of defeating the Spaniards as his anger over the Spaniards is rooted when his uncle was shot and his sister was raped both by a Spaniard some time ago. Luming and Lope also share the battle of forbidden love.
On the Spaniards side, Capt. Morenas has his battle of how he and his troops can survive inside the Baler Church. They are in dilemma whether to surrender because of the lack of food his troop is experiencing. This dilemma later on has been passed to the next
troop’s leader, 2nd Lt. Cerezo.
Semiotically, the dominance of the Catholic Church is strongly reflected. The signs of the crosses, priest, Angelus, confessions, scapulars, rosaries and bibles signify that it is the dominant religion in that period. Moreover, during the time of war, holy masses are conducted in between and even the Filipino civilians seek to attend holy masses, which were absent for quite some time due to the war. Also, the sign that the Church was chosen to be the headquarters of the Spanish soldiers signify their conviction that they go to their God in times of difficulty.
Applying intertextuality, as the film is based on history, one can easily infer that the dominance of religion is expected because Spain was the one who brought Christianity in the Philippines. This is an application also of the superstructure concept of Marxist with the dominant ideology of the religion in the country and majority of the
citizens believed that they would be punished if they break certain norms of the religion. Daniel attempts to break this ideology when he mentions to his wife that religion and the government are one. He says that the Spaniards are using religion just to control Filipinos. Ironically, even if there is dominance of the Roman Catholic, there is defiance from it when the main character, Feliza, got pregnant out of the sacrament of marriage. Moreover, the act of exchange of goods, like wines and cigarettes, during wartime between the two parties signifies that things can be worked out though peaceful means without the use of violence.
The sea, which was the usual and the constant setting where Feliza and Celso meet up for their hidden dates, signifies calmness and tranquility. This is in opposition to the setting of where the war happens in the vicinity of Baler Church. These two different settings show the two opposing and dominant themes.
Applying Todorov’s schema in narrative analysis, the initial equilibrium in the film is the absence of war, the “tigil-putukan” phase then followed by the disruption of the lifting of this stage where war started to happen already. Several complications followed such as the existence of traitors on the Spaniards side, Gabriel choosing to be on the Spaniards’ side to follow his dream to become a priest, and the prolonged delay of the surrender of the Spaniards. Climax is when main character, Celso, was accused of being a traitor and was killed by a fellow soldier. The resolution happened when the Spaniards
finally surrendered and peace was attained.
Applying moral formalism, one take-away value of the film is that love
transcends race, political differences, and even war. Baler is a unique film about love for it is not focused on the usual class conflict between two lovers consist of a rich and a poor, but rather portrayed love that struggled to survive in the time of war.