Meanwhile, as the besieging Filipinos well know, Spain is negotiating a sale of the islands to the victorious U.S. to bring the war to a definitive close. Anticipating their next war with the Americans, the natives would like to end the siege with minimal fuss and hope to convince the Spaniards with up-to-date newspapers. The new commander dismisses all reports as fake news, contrived to trick them into surrendering. Eventually, our artist hero is sent out on a mission to get authentic news from Manila, the capital. He's promptly captured by a courteous Filipino commander who sends him on his way in the hope that the truth will set everyone free. The commander still won't believe and condemns the artist as a drug-addled traitor. Our hero will survive the siege, but his artistic ambitions end up one last casualty of a hopeless war.
The siege of Baler was something new to me, and that lent novelty to 1898. The siege was no Alamo and its conclusion -- the commander finally reads a piece of news he can't dismiss as fake -- is inescapably anticlimactic. The maiming of our artist hero serves as a symbolic catastrophe on top of the already pointless deaths during the siege. The film's real strength is its ensemble cast, led by Luis Tosar, Javier Gutierrez and Alvaro Cervantes as the artist. There's nothing really innovative here as far as battle films go, but for audiences outside the Spanish-speaking world 1898 provides a fresh look at the absurdity of imperialism and the folly of war.