My notes on the Filipino lady-in-peril film.
On the set of a horror movie which will supposedly take her career in a new direction, leading lady Jane Ciego (Iza Calzado) is injured when the harness used in a levitation/possession scene breaks. She suffers a head injury, but when she wakes it seems to have migrated to her spine, She’s in a wheelchair and her situation, at the mercy of a no-good parasite husband Carlo (TJ Trinidad) and sinister nurse Lilibeth (Adrienne Vergara), parallels that of the film she was making. Sometimes, she looks at Carlo and sees the actor who was playing the husband in the film (Ian Veneracion). There are ominous plot threads about the blank cheques Carlo has her sign every morning ‘for equipment’ in the restaurant he says he’s about to open and the hunt for another sinister nurse Rose (also played by Vergara) who is wanted for molesting female patients. While Jane is trapped in an empty house with no phone, TV or internet access, living out a Gaslight wicked husband plot, her smothering stage mother Jillian (Shamaine Buencamino) and outrageously camp director Lexter Palao (Audie Gemora) are loitering around a busy hospital trying to get access to her for their own ends and her assistant (Stephanie Sol) is making a fuss because Carlo has got her pregnant.
There are enough melodrama tropes in this Filipino film for two or three pictures, because Bliss is at once a drama about the pressures of showbiz (Jane has been a star since her teenage years), a dream version of the film-within-a-film, and an essay in the female crackup genre (a key image is an oilier version of a memorable bit from Repulsion). It defuses some criticism of its familiarity by having Lexter own up that his pet project (which he sees as a ticket to Cannes after years of soap opera) is a homage to his favourite film (Misery) and others he enjoyed in the ‘60s, though the levels-of-reality business sits ill with the fact that the most outrageously caricatured characters (the limp gay stereotypes) live in what seems to be the most realistic level of the film. Calzado is good as the fetchingly distressed diva, and the segments in which she suffers prettily in confinement demonstrate that these clichés are almost infallible – with wheelchairbound Jane served by mocking Lilibeth the way Joan Crawford was by Bette Davis (note the echoing names) in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and assailed by ghostly CGI. Vergera, with two different looks, plays both the abusive nurses – the spiteful, cruel and snickering Lilibeth and the more pathetic Rose, a castoff doppelganger who glumly failed the audition that made Jane a star and fell into bad hands when her own stage mother gave up on her.
The big reveal, delayed until close to the end, isn’t that much of a shock, since clues (the smell of lotion, Groundhog Day repeated breakfast scenes) have been heavily planted – but there is skillful misdirection, with Trinidad especially effective as a worthless husband who embodies two distinct types of betrayal which take a while to become separate. The cool, contrived malice directed against Abigail, the heroine of the film, contrasts interestingly with the more fumbling, short-sighted, desperate and selfish actions of Jane’s real-world hangers-on … and the punchline, which teeters into tasteless comedy, involves the unforeseen consequence of a particularly opportunist and exploitative move on the part of the one of the more extreme, twisted parasites in the star’s circle. Directed and written by Jerrold Tarog, whose credit is briefly usurped onscreen by the fictional Lexter Palao.
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