Yam Laranas takes inspiration from Kurosawa, Bergman films for âDeath of A Girlfriendâ
Diego Loyzaga and AJ Raval in a scene from the Vivamax mystery love flick “Death of a Girlfriend”

Yam Laranas takes inspiration from Kurosawa, Bergman films for ‘Death of A Girlfriend’

Vanessa A. Balbuena (The Freeman) - May 5, 2021 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines —  An obsession with a French crime prompted director Yam Laranas to craft a screenplay for a mystery love story that he managed to film using limited resources during the pandemic. It has turned out to be his favorite thus far among his award-winning thrillers.

Calling “Death of A Girlfriend” a departure from his previous horror movies including the critically acclaimed “The Road,” “Sigaw,” and “Aurora,” Direk Yam tackled a new genre but still hewed very closely to his trademark meticulous cinematography and of letting audiences guess until the very end.

“This became my favorite because so many elements fused together that made me think, ‘Wow when you have limited resources you have to be more creative.’ Other than that this is the first screenplay where I felt that…I had my friends in LA and here in the Philippines read the script and they immediately fell in love with the story. From then on, I said I’ll do this film no matter what the budget is,” the filmmaker began during a virtual conference that included his lead stars Diego Loyzaga and AJ Raval.

“Death of A Girlfriend,” now streaming on Vivamax, is told by three suspected persons revealing different points of view of a brutal crime. When Christine (AJ) did not show up to her usual walk to school, her boyfriend Alonzo (Diego) becomes worried and realizes that something is not right. He sees two suspicious people running out of the woods, and Alonzo immediately reports them to the police.

The two prime suspects – a forest ranger (Arnold Reyes), and a drug-dealing farmer (Raul Morit), are interrogated by the police for the rape and murder of Christine. They will tell their side of the story up to the events that lead to the discovery of Christine’s body in the woods. The police will also interrogate Alonzo about his relationship with Christine, and how the two suspects always get in their way.

One of them is lying, one of them is covering the truth, and one of them is making up stories. And the only one who can tell the truth and what really happened on that day in the woods is Christine who is able to reveal her real perpetrator through forensic investigations.

Aside from a real-life incident that happened in France, Direk Yam’s storytelling device is heavily inspired by Akiro Kurosawa’s critical hit “Rashomon,” a 1950 Japanese psychological crime thriller. The “beauty and innocence” of AJ (daughter of former action star Jeric Raval), according to Direk Yam, was also inspired by “The Virgin Spring,” a 1970 Swedish rape and revenge film by Ingmar Bergman .

“There’s a fifth character not shown on screen that’s being played by Sol Cruz. Kahit gaano ako ka tempted hindi ko siya pinakita on screen. We want to find what the truth is: what is Diego saying, what is the character of AJ saying? And based on their love story, which is so sweet, here comes these two characters, the forest ranger and the farmer, na nanggulo sa love story nila. Who’s telling the truth? Their innocence and love story will clash with the strangers around them,” Direk Yam shared.

Promising a rollercoaster viewing experience, Direk Yam unabashedly said that he feels this is his best work. “Of course, viewers might think otherwise,” he said.

“I believe horror movies plays with emotions, especially fear. ‘Death of A Girlfriend,’ at least, I’m also playing with emotions. First, the true love emotion, but there’s a twist. There’s still the, if I may say, my trademark of beautiful cinematography that will create a mood and specific tone.”

Explaining the film’s tagline “Love is a trip,” Direk Yam said, “The true love story involves a lot of mystery so to them, is love real, or trip lang? At the same time, trip, meaning maglalaro lang tayo or trip to another destination where our love will grow? That’s the gist.”

Asked repeatedly what draws him to the horror and thriller genre, Direk Yam said he likes character-driven stories and loves playing with the mind of the audience. He wants to get the viewer involved in the mystery.

“They would look forward from one scene to the next – that’s what excites me. I want them to keep on guessing. As a director and a cinematographer, it’s more challenging for me. Who knows maybe my next movie will be a straight-up love story. But I like this genre for now.”

Starting his career with Viva – “I’m a Viva baby” – the director was proud to note how he has always worked with a lean team. He dislikes having many people on set, and pushes for 12-14 hour work days. New normal protocols for filming due to the pandemic was then not such a huge adjustment for him.

The ongoing global health crisis did decrease film budgets, but ever-resourceful directors will always find a way around these.

“While it varies per project, the productions right now, no matter what you say, COVID added a considerable percentage,” he said. “Kumbaga, if you have a budget of 100 pesos, it will be 110 because of the health protocols. Luckily enough when I pitched ‘Death of A Girlfriend’ to Viva, I was given just the right budget to make this happen. The key is to plan ahead, because if you don’t, mamahal lalo.”

As for casting the two leads, Direk Yam, who admits he’s always picky with his actors, said he quickly thought Diego was perfect for the role. AJ, a newcomer, was another matter.

“I know Diego and have seen him on TV. I’ve never met AJ. AJ, perfect face for the role, but can she do it? I know kaya niya, but the rest of the scenes would demand physical acting. AJ asked me, ‘Kapag hindi ko ba gagawin, tatanggalin mo ba ako sa movie?’ I told her that I can promise you, me and Viva will take care of you.”

“Ang cliché natin sa artista, maganda ba yan? Gwapo ba yan? Which is hindi na totoo ngayon. I’m not saying na pangit, it’s derogatory. I always ask, is the person good enough or the best for the role? Doon ko siya tinitignan. That’s the first prerequisite,” he continued. “The second is the acting skill. I would really know kung nambobola lang. When you act, and I see this with actors I’ve worked with na magagaling, even without a dialogue I know they are their characters.”

Fortunately, Direk Yam’s initial misgivings turned out unwarranted.

“I have no problems with Diego at all. He is a very collaborative and good actor. Kahit malayo siya sa akin on set, I can see his eyes asking, ‘Okay ba yung ginawa ko?’ Kapag hindi ako nagsasalita that means that’s very good. Diego can go a long way.”

“AJ, I had this reservation in the beginning and it’s unfair. I always have a reservation with newcomers, Okay pretty face, but can they act? When we had a one-on-one reading and I was seeing the takes, my evaluation is this: AJ is going to be very soon one of the most sought-after actresses in her category in the next five to 10 years.”

With rape and intimate scenes a pivotal part in the movie, Direk Yam found the need to hire an intimacy coordinator to protect and reassure his young stars.

“Obviously I had to protect AJ because she’s a newcomer. Diego, I had to protect him too whether lalaki or baguhan siya. That’s why I had them train with what we call an intimacy coordinator. They do that in Hollywood. I hired a friend who is an acting director from Canada. How to take care of each other, something like that.

“I often told them, just read the script. The only time I’ll say something will probably be because I don’t like the take. And it rarely happened because I trust my actors. Diego, take care of AJ. AJ, trust him. They went at it without malice or being bastos. They went all the way because that’s what the story needed. As a director, ‘Wow.’ Everyone who saw it, I’m happy that they noticed how the actors did their job so well.”

For Diego, who is in a comeback trail after almost two years out of the limelight, roles like that of Alonzo are ones he eagerly dives into.

“Mas nabubuhayan ako with scripts like this because it’s not the usual teleserye or teeny-bopper type of story. It’s a challenge for the actor. These are the kinds of stories that I look for on Netflix or stream online. Ginaganahan ka magtrabaho sa ganitong klaseng kwento,” said the son of Cesar Montano and Teresa Loyzaga, “I’m not saying typical love stories are uninteresting or boring, but these are the type of movie that gets your complete attention. Yung buong film, nakatutok ka talaga.”

He cites the book-turned-Hollywood film “Gone Girl,” as well as Pinoy flicks “Untrue” and “Night Shift” as “close in a way that the story is told.”

“Death of A Girlfriend” can also be viewed on ktx.ph, iWantTFC, TFC IPTV, SKY PPV for P250.

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