Reportedly, film production in the Philippines is much more regulated now than during the glory days of Roger Corman’s jungle prison movies. However, Jane Ciego might have her doubts. She was badly injured on the set of her latest picture—a horror movie about a famous actress abused by her caretakers after she is badly injured on the set of her latest movie. You might have a general idea of the meta-ness afoot, but there are still plenty of twisted turns to Jerrold Tarog’s Bliss, which screens during the annual New Filipino Cinema series at the Yerba Buena Arts Center.
Ciego has been a star since she was a child, but this film was supposed to be her breakout as a serious actress. Ditto for Abigail, the character she was playing. She has been successful enough to produce her ambitious art house horror film and continue to be a meal ticket for her ineffectual husband Carlo and her greedy stage mother, Jillian. Again, the same is true for her character, except her husband in the film-within-the-film is maybe slightly less contemptible. Regardless, this is hardly the sort of film you would want to “lose” yourself in, if that is indeed what happened to Ciego, or Abigail.
Things get even more sinister when Tarog gives us reason to suspect Ciego’s openly hostile private nurse Lilibeth is actually Rose, who is wanted by the police for sexually molesting young patients. As Ciego and Abigail’s realities conflict and intrude upon each other, Tarog keeps doubling back and folding the narrative over, to spring darkly clever revelations.
Iza Cazaldo has a Kate Beckinsale vibe working that is absolutely perfect for Ciego/Abigail. She establishes a strong persona as Ciego, which makes it so compelling to then watch her tear it apart at the seams. Evidently, there was a lot of buzz about her topless scene in the film, but it is nothing like what her fans probably assumed. Adrienne Vergara is also creepy as heck as Lilibeth/Rose and Shamaine Buencamino is spectacularly bad news as Mama Jillian. However, Audie Gemora often upstages everyone as her wildly flamboyant director, Lexter Palao.