There is much anticipation for Bliss, Jerrold Tarog’s latest full-length movie after his hugely successful, critically-acclaimed box office hit Heneral Luna.
Initially, the anticipation for Bliss was due to the fascination with this talented director, but more recently, interest also piqued due to the MTRCB’s initial X-rating of the film that was shown at the 2017 Osaka International Film Festival.
Bliss revolves around Jane Ciego (Iza Calzado), an actress who wants to win an acting award, so she produces her own movie and works with director Lexter (Audie Gemora).
Immediately, it feels as if this is a send-up of the Philippine entertainment industry, a critique of celebrity and filmmakers who produce works in order to make the rounds of international film festivals.
But real life mirrors fiction as the story that Lexter wants to shoot draws many parallels from the life of Ciego. In addition, the film-within-a-film puts up a mirror for the audience and professionals involved in filmmaking to take a closer look at how the industry has evolved, so to speak.
Told in a non-linear fashion and from different points of view, the film starts out with the protagonist as the narrator, but soon shows the story of her husband Carlo (TJ Trinidad), leading man (Ian Veneracion), the director, and her stalker (Adrienne Vergara).
After an accident on the set of her movie, Ciego enters a dream-like state where reality and dreams or fantasy are fluid. She is confined to a wheelchair in a house that is cut off from the rest of the world, and her only human contact are with her husband and the nurse Lillibeth, who is a very obscure, seemingly sinister character.
There are many visual and auditory themes in the movie, one of them is the circle or “ikot”/round. Another is in flashbacks to Ciego, overworked and exhausted, wishing that she could just sleep.
Direk Jerrold has been vocal about some of the inspirations he drew from while making this psychological thriller, including Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue and Ingmar Bergman’s Persona. Jane’s confinement to a chair and her desperation at her predicament is also reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s lead character played by James Stewart in Rear Window.
Aside from directing this psycho-thriller, Jerrold also wrote, scored, and edited the film. He seamlessly stitches together a tale that is chilling and enigmatic. The production design by Darlene Malimas, cinematography by Mackie Galvez, sound design by Mikko Quizon, and visual effects by Blackburst, Inc. are notable in that they make the transition from dream to reality and back believable—and not silly. The repetitive elements also do not become annoying because they seem fresh and deliberate.
However, the narrative suffers toward the end, when Direk Jerrold seems to want to explain away everything, wrapped in a tight package. This leaves almost no room for the audience to draw their own conclusions or be mystified by explanations.
In the final few scenes, the magician reveals his secrets, and this diminishes the satisfaction. The movie succeeds though as a psychological thriller—thankfully, not as a horror flick.
The actors deliver roles that are believable and actually crawl under your skin. Iza’s Yakushi Pearl Award (Best Performer) in Osaka, Japan for her role is well deserved. She essays the role with the right amount of naivete, desperation, and horror.
Ian Veneracion and TJ Trinidad bring more than just good looks to their roles, with great chemistry off each other and with Iza.
Adrienne Vergara, in her seeming simplicity, is menacing and conjures similar emotions as the character of Norman Bates in the classic Psycho.
Audie is a thrill to watch as the parlorista gay movie director and Michael de Mesa as the more subdued TV show host. Star Orjaliza’s turn as a molester is terrifying in its nonchalance. Shamaine Buencamino is impeccable as the stage mother who, underneath, is still all love and compassion for her daughter.
Bliss is rated R-18, without cuts. It is now being screened in cinemas nationwide.
Ed's Note: The "PEP Review" section carries the views of individual reviewers, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the PEP editorial staff.