Bliss (2017, Jerrold Tarog) Review
Starring: Iza Calzado, Ian Veneracion, TJ Trinidad
Bliss is about Jane Ciego, a former child star who signed up to be a producer of a thriller movie that is intended for foreign film festivals such as the Cannes. Unfortunately, while the crew is shooting the film’s climax, Ciego gets into a terrible accident, then waking up to find herself in a wheelchair, her husband tormenting her and a mysterious nurse who is not at all as she seems. As Ciego tries to solve the mystery, her vision of fantasy and reality is soon blurred, sending her into a deep predicament filled with misery and bliss.
From the opening sequence, the audience is thrust into a surrealistic and dreamlike sequence where Tarog gives viewers glimpses of what goes on behind the curtain. Not everything is what it seems. There are switched identities. The movie lives in a veiled existence. In Bliss, there seems to be forces at work warping and influencing one’s perception of time and reality. Tarog explores the fallacies of the human memory and psyche, delivering plenty of ideas. It’s like a puzzle piece waiting to be solved, though one does not know what it should look like. All the pieces are given, and it’s up to the viewer to fix these pieces into a cohesive whole.
It’s all hypnotic, the audience drawn along as if one thing leads to another—but nothing exactly leads anywhere. The non-linear narrative shows Tarog’s creative vision and craftsmanship both as a director and a storyteller. As identities start to switch, the characters fracture, recombining like flesh caught in a kaleidoscope. The mystery is still solved in the end, though, but it leaves the viewer with shock and awe. I won’t consider it to be a plot twist, but the way everything was tied together at the end is so meticulously crafted, Tarog combining all the mysterious glimpses into a whole that it is logical, but still fevered and nastily disturbing.
Also, for an indie film, this is cinematic perfection. It’s almost impossible to deny its quality. The cinematography is wonderful, having a certain grittiness to it that one would expect from a psychological thriller such as this. The editing helps the film flow smoothly, enhancing its abstract cinematic voice and telling the viewer that nothing is at it seems, not even reality. Its commentary and the way the film wings out the horror from the mundane is exceedingly clever, bringing out the true terror in a story such as this. The film is also enhanced by the performances. Everyone is great, but I’d like to mention Adrienne Vergara, the nurse, who is a true revelation. Her acting brings out all sorts of menace, physical and sexual, and delivers it in a creepy way that has thick layers of extreme complexity.
Bliss is a magnificent movie that will mess with one’s mind. It is very challenging, a mind-bending experience that works both effectively as a gripping mystery and always intrigues the viewer with its enticing story. Words, sounds, images, and performances all come together in this perfect slice of cinema. This may not be for everyone, as the core of the story is truly disturbing, and the R-18 given by the MTRCB feels justified. As a psychological thriller, this is groundbreaking, something I have never seen before in Filipino cinema. It is spectacular, and something that will stay on my mind for a long time.