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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

May 11, 2017

Bliss Movie Review: Hoping Against Hope That 'Masa' Who Hate Being Intellectually Challenged Will Support This Psycho Thriller

‘BLISS’ is one of those movies whose structure is like a conundrum that aims to challenge you to figure out whether the scenes you’re watching are real or mere hallucinations in the mind of a character. Writer-Director Jerrold Tarog can be considered a visionary by local standards, coming up with bold concepts that will not easily endear him to “masa” audiences who do not tolerate ambiguity and are more accustomed to being spoonfed.

They avoid movies that engage their intellect and will surely find his work not only perplexing but simply confusing. Tarog is just lucky to have producers that are willing to indulge him and gamble on his cinematic experiments.

Films where characters blur the line between reality and fantasy abound: “Spiral”, “Birdman”, “Black Swan”, “Labyrinth”, “Shutter Island”, “Stranger than Fiction” even “The Shining”, to name a few. Tarog says the film is somewhat inspired by “Misery” but what is clear than he’s more a disciple of Director Christopher Nolan who did mind boggling films like “Memento” and “Inception”.

But Tarog is not just screwing the viewer’s perception as he provides pegs for us to show enough clarity about where we are going. You know some parts are nightmares of Iza Calzado while she’s in a dream state, and there is also a movie within a movie, both of which are titled “Bliss”. In the movie, the husband of Iza is TJ Trinidad, but in the movie within a movie, it is Ian Veneracion. Both of them keep on asking money from Iza, but Ian is a cruel wife beater whereas TJ is more of a philanderer who has gone to bed with Iza’s assistant (Stephanie Sol) who he gets pregnant and now ignores.

Iza is shown being accosted by shadowy figures in narrow corridors and hearing strange noises. This can be in the movie within a movie or in her nightmares while she’s in coma. It might look convoluted but the pay off in the end is not an annoying cliffhanger open to any kind of interpretation (like the puzzler in “Inception” and the spinning top) as Tarog’s film becomes more accessible with a definite resolution: Iza wakes up from her coma while she is naked and being violated by her overweight nurse.

Tarog delves deep into the psyche of Jane Ciego (Iza), an actress who started as a child star and is
now tired of doing the same old movies she does, so she decides to produce her own movie that will be a game-changer for her and hopefully give her awards and more respectability.

Tarog succeeds in developing in the viewer a strong emotional attachment to Jane, who gets into a terrible accident on the film’s last day of shooting. She loses her consciousness and when she regains it, she’s already a cripple in a wheelchair, imprisoned in a big house where her only connections are her parasitic husband, Carlo (TJ Trinidad), and a hostile nurse, Lilibeth (Adrienne Vergara), who turns out to be a pervert.

Although the film is a thriller, it manages to take some hilarious potshots at the movie industry. Jane is abused not only by her husband but also by her own mother (Shamaine Buencamino) and you can see her in the family of a lot of our stars who have become breadwinners and are regarded as cash cows by relatives who depend on them.

Then there’s Audie Gemora as the openly gay soap director who wants to make an arthouse film that will take him to the Cannes Filmfest (which he pronounces as Cans) and he’ll do everything to achieve his desired effect even if it endangers the life of his artist.

There are also the stage moms who think they’ll get rich quick if their children hit it big in showbiz. And one these kids coerced by her mother to join an audition turns out to be the nurse, who didn’t make it as it was the young Jane was chosen for the part. Instead, she becomes the victim of a lesbian neighbor who molested her and turns her into a molester herself.

Though the film might confuse you, there’s no denying that it is pretty well crafted. The cinematography, the production design, the editing, the musical score all coalesced to make it worth watching from start to finish. It is also very well acted, starting with Iza who dominates the film being totally credible and sympathetic as the embattled heroine. Most everyone else gives exceptional support, from Trinidad and Gemora to Vergara, Sol and Buencamino.

“Bliss” is R-18 and, as such, it is shown in a limited number of theaters. It’s also up against the G-rated “Our Might Yaya” and the Ridley Scott thriller, “Alien Covenant”. When we watched it in Trinoma, there were only about 30 of us inside the theatre. Still, we’re hoping against hope that this movie eventually finds its audience just like Tarog’s “Heneral Luna”.