Forbidden desire

SLOW DOWN, DILETTANTE - Jam Pascual (The Philippine Star) - April 7, 2017 - 12:00am

There are two things the MTRCB’s X-rating could do to Jerrold Tarog’s new film and current locus of debate, Bliss. On the one hand, it could act as a death sentence, effectively depriving a potentially large audience of a well-directed thriller. On the other hand, it could act as a badge of sorts, indicating a film so dark and messed up it forced a freaking governing body to play savior and protect the Filipino moviegoing public from pissing themselves, as they must have during their review.

Sitting in the theater of the UP Film Center, it seems the latter case is most true. The place is packed; the air of the venue is filled with whispers of intrigue, nervous chuckles, and excitement to watch a film that may not see the light of day. The X-rating did the opposite of scaring people off — it could be that the MTRCB really shot themselves in the foot with this one. Simply put: those people wanted to see Bliss. And from the feedback that’s been going around, we know that those people want other people to see this film, too.

I can’t say much without totally giving away the plot — beware now: minor thematic spoilers ahead — but in the interest of supporting local film, I’m going to try to prove why Bliss deserves to be shown, and why people deserve the choice to see it.

The film follows Jane Ciego (played by Iza Calzado), an actress disillusioned by the trappings of celebrity and the people she thought she could trust. Jane decides to be the executive producer of a film. It’s different from her usual teleserye work, the kind of movie that would take her career to the elusive heights of critical acclaim. A serious on-set injury, however, puts her out of commission, forcing her to recover in a house seemingly designed to drive her insane, with an extremely effed-in-the-head nurse (played by Adrienne Vergara) to keep her company. It is unclear to her what kinds of forces surround her, but they do not mean well.

Before the screening, Jerrold described his film as a “mindf***,” which is partially true. Bliss is a film that plays tricks on its audience, leaving viewers as confused as Jane is with her predicament. Part of why this works is that Bliss’s story is a film within a film. To watch the narratives of each weave into each other, it becomes difficult to tell the difference between reality and fiction. An Inception reference is easy to make, but don’t take that as a diss — any adult (and I’m pretty sure most teenagers) can handle the mind-twisting that Bliss brings to the table, even if that cinematic trickery is fueled by an atmosphere of fear. At the very least, Bliss is a brainy change of pace, something different from the kind of hugot-driven entertainment I assume the MTRCB finds much easier to peddle.

The artistic merits of the film alone should be enough to validate this film’s existence — both Iza and Adrienne shine in their roles, with the latter so terrifying she makes the maid from Get Out look like Winnie the Pooh. But when it comes to what makes the film so frightening, the themes that aid Bliss in its goal to mess with your head — that’s where it gets a little tricky. The film deals with a lot of uncomfortable realities such as (minor thematic spoiler alert and trigger warning) rape and psychological abuse, and it’s so unrelenting in its portrayal of these themes I found myself wondering what the difference is between a thriller and a horror movie. (I’m still not sure.) It’s understandable that MTRCB’s show of mercy would manifest in the slightly less damaging rating of R-18.

However, we also have to keep in mind that it is the ability of good art — one could say its responsibility — to grapple with discomforting, hard-to-accept realities in order to tell the story of greater truths. This is something that Bliss does to great effect, employing shock and violence and trauma to portray how the human mind can be driven to craziness or despair, and how these states of mind can perhaps be conquered and overcome. The film illustrates a world fueled by deception, and through it, a character that displays an impressive amount of willpower to shatter the illusions surrounding her. How is that not relevant now, to us, living in a time in which lies and fake news conspire to rule the way we see the world?

Here is a truth: the only thing more insane than Bliss is the MTRCB’s previous attempts to censor it. We’re not saying it’s a perfect film. We are saying, though, that you’re more entitled to judge for yourself. You deserve that choice.

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Bliss is scheduled to be released on May 10 in theaters nationwide.

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