BLISS (Jerrold Tarog, 2017)

Jerrold Tarog's "Bliss" is a maddening satire of the local entertainment industry, told in a surreal, nonlinear fashion. In this world, characters are outrageously crazy, one way or another, with Tarog never one to shy away from pushing the boundaries of genre cinema. 

Iza Calzado plays Jane Ciego, a famous actress who succumbs to an accident while filming her self-produced movie, a prestige picture being eyed for international recognition. As the character Jane recovers from the accident, we bear witness as she is sucked dry by her husband (TJ Trinidad), co-star (Ian Veneracion), director (Audie Gemora) and even her own mother (Shamaine Buencamino). But what could have been just a straightforward depiction of the ruthlessness of show business transforms into a psychological labyrinth, as Jane struggles to escape her demons. Tarog employs surrealism to portray Jane's consciousness, or subconscious, if you will, creating layer after layer of bizarre instances. 

Tarog's penchant for symbolism is on clear display here. The empty box is to "Bliss" where the blue pair of shoes was in "Sana Dati." A case can be made that Tarog seemed to be over explaining his ideas in "Bliss," rather than allowing his images to speak for themselves. However, since repetition is one of his evident narrative devices in this film, could Tarog be repeating everything, not just for emphasis, but also for increased confusion, since his narrative design is one of a neural maze? If so, then he succeeds in crafting an elaborate metaphor for abuse, both physically and psychologically.

Rape is a form of abuse, and a theme most pervasive in "Bliss." Tarog uses the subject of rape as a metaphor for harsh working conditions in the industry, fame-whoring, and consensual slavery in exchange for money. Jane Ciego's character is interesting. Herein is a celebrity, who might have been a true artist, after all, were it not for society's expectations. I could surmise that this is someone, who from childhood, was always told to excel or face the consequences. 

Depressing is an understatement. 

I mean, if you look at a girl who is told constantly that awards and fans' adoration are what's valuable in this world, then no wonder she will chase the ever-elusive goal of vindication, that she is an actress of a certain caliber, and not just a hack who has a legion of online followers.

As Jane, Calzado renders her most demanding portrayal to date. In one of the most breathtaking scenes, Jane observes in silence as tired movie workers gather around her for the culminating sequence of her film, which is her film character's "ascension." In one corner, her husband and mother seem to be conspiring with one another, while in the director's tent, the egotistic filmmaker is chewing everybody for failing to achieve his "vision." There and then, Jane reflects on her life's work, on how she's always been in service of others, and why she is doing all these now, including getting suspended in midair using unsafe harnesses. 

Before we forget, another reason to go see the film is Adrienne Vergara, who portrays Jane's sadistic nurse Lilibeth. The laugh alone is maniacal. Already one of the iconic "villains" in local cinematic canon (and I will fight you on this), Lilibeth navigates the line between victim and tormentor, which further strengthens the film's premise that abuse is cyclical.

The much-publicized nudity in "Bliss" is essential. "Bliss" is about abuse, and it is being told from the perspective of a woman. For someone who is being used emotionally, physically and financially, Jane is dead tired of it all, which is why the final scene is so outstandingly hilarious that it deserves a standing ovation (pun intended). Jane has been sexualized and commodified in every which way possible, like most actresses, and for "Bliss" to end by way of sexual gratification is f****** beautiful. 

I liked that Tarog (who also wrote, scored and edited the film) employed elements of camp in "Bliss." I think the humor, particularly the biting sarcasm is so spot on that it's somewhat unfair to brand "Bliss" as psychological thriller rather than a comedy. A very dark, absurd and insane comedy.

Tarog cites Satoshi Kon, Bergman's "Persona" and "Misery" (obviously) as some of the inspirations for "Bliss," but even without seeing them beforehand, the film is still a riot. Tarog is in clear command of his material, and I wouldn't be surprised if "Bliss" achieves a cult following very soon.




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