Tuesday, July 26, 2011

On Charice, John Prats, Cinemalaya Delicadeza & San Francisco Film Makers


Setting: NAIA Terminal 3, Mister Donut (MD) stall

Customer to MD crew: Miss, meron kayong Krispy Kreme na donut?

Mister Donut crew: Sorry, ma’am. We’re a Mister Donut outlet!

Customer: Ah, ok. (She leaves for 5 seconds, then returns.)

Customer to MD crew: Eh, Gonuts, meron kayo?


I've always wondered how some people could look at their faces in the mirror with dignity. Sometimes blood is thicker than the common decency of not taking advantage of ones post.

Let's take, for example, Laurice Guillen, director and head honcho of the amazing Cinemalaya Festival (this year has churned out the best crop of movies in years). Guillen greenlights production of most main features. She even has a say regarding script changes and casting choices. In the past, Guillen has allowed the casting of her daughter Ina Feleo in two Cinemalaya main features - Jade Castro's "Endo" (2007) and Milo Sogueco's "Sanglaan" (2009) where - surprise, surprise! - Miss Feleo has won for herself Best Actress awards!

Ina Feleo is pretty. She isn't a bad actress either, but "Best Actress" caliber is really stretching it! I can think of a dozen names in the indie scene that could act up a storm more than Feleo. And for her to keep getting starring roles in Cinemalaya features that other better actresses deserve is a judicial travesty! Fast forwards 2011, Ina Feleo once again topbills a film directed by her mother Laurice (co-starring Shamaine Buencamino and Tirso Cruz III) - "Maskara"! And, like the whole Cinemalaya event is their family playground, Guillen even fields "Maskara" as their opening film!

Where has delicadeza gone?

I could think of 5 films that would make a great festival opener, not "Maskara"! As for Ina Feleo, I am glad to see her in teleseryes ("Guns and Roses"). I didn't care much if she won "Best Actress" awards from her Cinemalaya starrers though, once again, I can easily name better performances from the Cinemalaya entries in 2007 and 2009. But is there honor in fast tracking a showbiz career through an event that should otherwise be a venue of freedom, truth and excellent new breed of film making?


Setting: Greenbelt 3 Cinema Lounge (in front of Cinemalaya booth)

Cinema goers were reading from a program. Program sellers were abuzz with activity. People were coming and going. Raymond Bagatsing and Ronnie Lazaro were generously accommodating a crowd nearby. I was holding on to my tasteless New York Fries, observing people while waiting for my date buying soda.

Young director to several people at the booth: Hi, I’m Benito Bautista, director of “Boundary”… San Francisco!

Saw the guy he was talking to. He was needlessly perplexed. Should have been me. “Hi, I’m Cathy Pena, cinema vixen… Antananarivo, Madagascar!”


I was channel surfing when I caught a segment of “Happy Yipee Yehey”. The next set of contestants would be this population of people desperate enough to make a fool of themselves on TV.

Jason Francisco:Pumunta po kayo bukas 1PM ng hapon!” You bet! 1 PM in the afternoon, not 1PM in the morning, clear?


A flawed but brilliantly realized semi-documentary called “Bahay Bata” (Baby Factory) has gritty realism. The story happens one Christmas Eve in San Lazaro Hospital.

Young mother no.1 (YM1): Hoy, ate, ano’ng pangalan ng baby mo?

Young mother no. 2 (YM2): Charice.

YM1: Ay, bakit Charice? Ang pangit ni Charice Pempengco! Sa akin, Sarah (Geronimo).


John Prats is a likeable guy. He is handsome, agreeable, and is known to have good work ethics, but when it comes to the girls that he once liked, he turns into a spineless prick!

Consider the list: Heart Evangelista , Shaina Magdayao, Rachelle Anne Go. Did these girls get their romantic closure from him? It seems that when he gets tired of girls that he once wooed, he simply blocks them out of his life. No goodbyes, no serious talks, no telephone calls, heck, not even a text message saying, “We’re through!” This is the worst kind of man you’ll ever meet. He lives his life in a misdirected vicious cycle. Careful, Bianca!

Why not grow a pair. Mr. Prats?


Going back to Charice, if you’ve been following this blogsite, you would know that I only have good words for Charice. I believe in her talent. I mean, those pipes can't be anything but sent from the heavens, right?

But it seems that she’s getting too onion skinned for constructive criticisms. To bolster this attitude, she even boasts of a set of fans that would defend her to the death. Anyone who speaks ill of her, they will massacre! Right, Mr. Nestor Torre? When the latter wrote why Charice doesn’t have the physical qualifications of being a “Kim” (Miss Saigon) – a rather didactic discourse on what or how a Kim should be – the entertainment journalist was deluged with the nastiest replies from Charice’s supporters, 200 replies to be exact! Some twats even researched Mr. Torre's photos and made a dartboard out of it. Last time I checked, Mr. Torre wasn't gonna be Kim, was he? These sniveling idiots!

I believe Charice doesn't make the rightful Kim either. We grew up hailing every Filipina who has sung “Sun and Moon” with her Chris. We also know where Mr. Torre comes from. Eh hindi naman kasi talaga bagay no!

Meanwhile, when a fan wrote her observation at Charice’s fan page in Facebook, i.e. that she seemed a little too heavy when she last portrayed Sunshine Corazon in “Glee” – where she performed another rousing number (the spectacular “As Long As You’re There”) – what did Charice do? She closed down her fan page and even tweeted about her two-faced fans!

Very mature indeed! A class act!

I saw the whole Glee episode and she indeed looked awkward and too satiated – my 7 year old niece even commented, “Ate Charice looks full!” In the same episode, Sunshine was so scared of performing that she wanted to March down the Philippine Embassy (in the U.S.) so "they would revoke my visa". Huh? It's the United States of America who gave you the visa, hon; not the Philippine Embassy! And really now, what could be easier than simply buying a plane ticket to fly back to the Philippines and hide in a cave?

Charice, my dear, people who can’t take criticism gracefully won’t grow into emotionally stable artists and well balanced individuals. You have to learn how to accept other people's observations because you're in the spotlight! You can actually improve yourself from constructive criticism. Not everyone is willing to lick your ass! You have a God-given talent, but you’re not perfect. No one is. It is our divine duty to improve on what weve been given. When sympathizers wish improvements on you, is it really wise to cover your ears? Sometimes, criticisms are there not to be spiteful, but to inspire improvement. Grow up, Charice!

(And for that anonymous cunt from Lake Elsinore, California - and this is obviously meant to be gloriously spiteful, yes, honey, "brainless ass-lickers" like you, dear! Hahaha! What could be more disgusting than sycophantic spineless stools who can't even conjure fictitious names to stand by their thoughts? Go fish for a brain!)


A dancer and a new actress conquer the music scene. I was checking out the new releases from Odyssey when I saw two new titles. Rayver Cruz just released an EP CD containing 5 songs. When he was a newbie in the business, I saw him play the biopic of Billy Joe Crawford in MMK. He was charming and actually had the pipes to make it as a singer. Years later, he became a dancer!

The other CD was from a sophisticated Solenn (we saw her belt the Beatles’ “Come Together” with Lovi Poe in the improving “Party Pilipinas” and we were quite surprised). Miss Heusaff is spreading herself grandiosely in the business. For someone who once said, quite emphatically on television, “Tandaan n’yo to, after this (Survivor), hinding hindi ako mag aartista!” If the lives of her love ones depended on her word, they’d all be dead, right?

We like Solenn. She is gorgeous, she isn’t a bad actress despite her linguistic crutches, she seems like a decent lady, and she isn't all that bad at singing either. What is there to dislike? But what we’re trying to say is, never say never. Otherwise, what is your word worth? Right, Mr. Bieber?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Adventures of Pureza - Cinematic Atrocities

How do you box in the manic energy and frothy character of Melai Cantiveros?

In Star Cinema's "The Adventures of Pureza: Queen of the Riles", you end up having a product that underlines everything that's annoying about her instead of the adorable gibberish and flashes of humor that highlight her persona. And in what could be one of the most atrocious cinematic outing of the year, a surefire formula hits all the wrong buttons.


Pureza (Melai Cantiveros) does odd jobs and the silliest, most ridiculous tricks to sustain her brother Ulan's (Martin del Rosario) escalating financial demands. It's a great thing that childhood friend Ruben (Jason Francisco) is always beside her to constantly lend a hand. However, this harmonious "partnership" of sorts may not last. Ruben plans to work in Saudi, and Pureza is largely repellent to people leaving her (she was left for adoption by her biological mother). And Ruben's romantic maneuver is blind sided by Pureza's emotional hang-ups and compulsion to earn the extra buck.

When shady mob boss Mother Baby (Gina Pareno) offers Ruben a clandestine heist that would bring Brazilian model Daniella Fabella La Bamba (Bianca Manalo) to her, Pureza coaxes Ruben to accept the job that would earn them a cool P100,000. The slippery model turns out to be a courier of illegal goods (diamonds) hidden within slippers. And who is Gerald Landerson (Joem Bascon)? Why does he welcome Pureza's too-obvious infatuation? Will he pave the way for Pureza's dream of becoming a model? He is, after all, a renowned photographer. Is he a friend? Or a foe?

Director Soxie Topacio ("Ded na si Lolo") weaves a frenetic narrative with disparate stories too far out to be believable or funny. In fact, the funniest bits in this atrocious work appears right after the cinematic chapter concludes its tale - a series of outtakes running throughout the closing credits.

Aren't we tired of the same physical gags dressing up our comediennes in otherworldly frocks? Hasn't this been done ad nauseam? Pokwang? Eugene Domingo? Ai Ai de las Alas? Rufa Mae Quinto? What about the story? This is an obvious rehash from the hardworking Ina Montecillo (Ai Ai de las Alas) of "Tanging Ina", Paula Cajanding (Eugene Domingo) of "Working Girls" and several other comic heroines.

Melai Cantiveros delivers her lines like she's been constipated for the last 12 months. In fact, it's so painful to watch her with her 5-minute verbal marathons and soliloquys. "Si Ulan, ang kapatid ko! Ang kapatid ko!" - mimicking a cry with sobs and sighs, but curiously without the tears! Taking into consideration that this is a comic vehicle, people who cry still should do so with tears, unless she has an ophthalmological condition that merits Dacryocystorhinostomy (DCR)!

Jason Francisco doesn't do as badly as he tempers Cantiveros' pull-all-the-stops countenance. But this doesn't bode well for him either since it's obvious he is incapable of standing alone without his voluble and overly labile partner. Martin del Rosario's Ulan is clumsily written. You don't know exactly where his character comes from. His motivations for "straying" are as sketchy as this singular abomination that's loud, humorless, zing-less camp.

There are a couple of characters that make this cinematic rubbish a wee bit bearable: Bianca Manalo who plays an ill-advised Brazilian model (oh yes, you better believe it!) and Pokwang as Pureza's wayward mother in a fleeting cameo. Manalo delivers an earnest portrayal that befits her supposedly mysterious mien, queenly and affecting, despite the obvious idiocy of a character such as Daniella. Brazilian model? You gotta be kidding me!

Why "Queen of the Riles"? Because she lives beside the rail track? So does a hundred other illegal settlers. Then there should be hundreds of queens, right? Priscilla (Queen of the Desert) should be very ashamed for such idiotic references.

A few scenes would display the comedic sophistication of the film:

When Gina Pareno, who orally shuffles a disgusting pustiso all throughout her scenes, delivers a punchline, she shouts: "Ay kalbo! Ay pechay!" Someone actually thought that was funny?

There's the cockroach-throwing scene where, instead of just stepping on the darn vermin, everyone bats the poor insect around! Who ever thought that was hilarious should be examined in the head.

There's the tired gag of people falling down the roof. How many times should that be repeated before it wears out its novelty? I'd say, one is enough.

Finally, there's a misplaced musical number singing a slanged-out "pakpak" to the tune of "May Pulis sa Ilalim ng Tulay". Pekpek, anyone?

You bet!

That this movie got clobbered by Harry Potter's final adieu, thank heavens there's justice on earth!

For those who believe they have a masterpiece on hand here, Geez, check your sanity! If anyone thinks of "Pureza" as anything other than horrendous, I pity you!

Si Sor Throat at si Sor Eyes meets Sister Pepa (Bella Flores).

Manic energy, annoying countenance! What works in the boob tube miserably fails on the silver screen!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Temptation Island - Sweetest Temptations in Camp Classic

Beauty contests draw women from all walks of life, each one driven by a variety of motivations – fame, fortune and the quest for what would seem like a more tangible form of self worth and independence. When Manila Sunshine Pageant makes its call to public, a bevy of interesting girls come flooding by.

Among these colorful characters: Pura K (Solenn Heusaff), a desperate beauty whose once rich family is now struggling for their old glory; Virginia P (Heart Evangelista), a haughty kolehiyala who's grappling for personal liberties (she's the unica hija in a male-dominated family); Serafina (Lovi Poe), the annoyingly catty front runner; Cristina G (Marian Rivera), the schemy hooker who's in it for the top plum - house and lot. Each one has specific reasons for their participation.

A pre-finals yacht adventure takes the ladies to the Caticlan seas. Tagging along for the ride are Tonio (Dennis Trillo), Cristina G's hustling squeeze; Joshua (John Lapus), the pageant impresario along with his boytoy and photographer Ricardo (Mikael Daez); college student Alfredo (Aljur Abrenica), who's infatuated with Virginia P, and Nimfa (Rufa Mae Quinto), Serafina's much abused alalay. As fate would have it, the ship caught fire and the aforementioned characters find themselves marooned on a desert island. With no supplies for shelter nor food for sustenance.

What follows are the hilarious squabbles, feckless and inconsequential, but undeniably fun!
Somewhere along their discord blooms romance, friendship, and jealousy. And desperate trappings to survive take them into situations that are frolicky and hilarious.

Heart Evangelista: lovely but inconsistent!

This cinematic update of the Joey Gosiengfiao 80's camp classic renames most of its characters to pay homage to Gosiengfiao who was regarded as one of Regal Films' "bold directors". To be perfectly honest about it, I only saw the original "Temptation Island" early this year (Thanks, Kyle!), but I have never had so much fun watching an old Tagalog flick with faded color schemes. It has, in fact, become a personal favorite. And one of the pleasures of watching it was predicting which new set of actors would eventually land the characters. I got the line-up 100% right, although I didn't know Dennis Trillo would be in it! Trillo would take the role of Tonio (originally played by a mestizo actor named Tonio Gutierrez), Christina G's boytoy.

In this film, the main characters were renamed into the vamps that personified Gosiengfiao's cinematic muses, mostly Alma Moreno starrers. Virginia P. was a titular character that starred Alma Moreno, Richard Gomez and Alice Dixson (Jonas Sebastian, who played the original Joshua, wrote the script for this 1989 flick). Cristina G was from "Diary of Cristina Gaston" (1982) that also starred Moreno, Alfie Anido and Jimi Melendez. Serafina was from "Nights of Serafina" shown during the "ST phase" of Philippine cinema in 1996, topbilled by an actress I barely remember, Georgia Ortega - with her consorts Mike Magat and John Apacible. Nympha was from "Nympha", another "bold flick" in 1980 that starred Moreno, Ricky Belmonte, Orestes Ojeda and Alfie Anido. It's actually Pura K (Kikinang) that I can't quite place. This character portrayed by Solenn Heusaff (in this new version) and Bambi Arambulo (in the original) could be one of Alma Moreno's characters too. This move is particularly amusing as it pays homage to Gosiengfiao who loved his women donning Regal's "wet white magic kamison" and his men in the skimpiest bikini briefs.

Lovi Poe: incandescent performance!

Heart Evangelista takes on Dina Bonnevie's kolehiyala role (a character originally named "Dina" but has since been changed to Virginia P.) Though we initially thought Heart would be perfect for the role, she hardly passed muster. Her performance brought a character that was largely inconsequential and inconsistent, vacillating between a snooty college brat and an equally infatuated girl to Alfredo's (Aljur Abrenica, who plays a the college jock) romantic pursuits. Evangelista's performance is a curiosity. We couldn't picture another actress for the same role yet she twiddles between tentatively annoying and downright forgettable. It could have been a perfect fit. What gives?

It couldn't be blamed entirely on her sparkless chemistry with Abrenica playing Alfredo, a role originally played with suave confidence by the English-proficient Alfie Anido; something that Abrenica is too far removed. Abrenica's deliveries were perfunctory and at times painful... like playing a pre-recorded dull declamatory line, robotic and wooden, taking Machete back to the fore. For this folly, the usually insightful director Chris Martinez could have tweaked the script a bit by allowing Abrenica to speak in the vernacular. Pag di kaya ang Ingles, Tagalugin! This will solve the linguistic hurdle. Unfortunately, even Abrenica's Tagalog lines were stiff and amateurish. How long has he been in the business? One year?

For all of Abrenica's physical splendor, he is hopelessly hammy, which is sad considering the fact that he is being groomed by his mother studio as a top-tier leading dramatic actor. What is with GMA's lead actors? Richard Gutierrez, Aljur Abrenica, now (from all indications) Mikael Daez? There is a consistently common denominator: beautiful, but bland!

Marian Rivera, as Cristina G, hams it up. Her zealous demeanor could have taken her character to town. Even her English affectations were in perfect sync with Azenith Briones' original performance. They play an ambitious escort girl who dreams of conquering her poverty-stricken existence. Unfortunately, her Cristina G fails to stay afloat. She may have been Marimar, Darna, Dyesebel and Amaya, but her over eager depiction of Cristina G sinks into the realm of caricature.

The lovely Marian is paired off with the ruggedly handsome Tom Rodriquez who takes on Domingo Sabado's role as the cruise ship waiter Umberto.

Solenn Heusaff wrestles with her Tagalog, but her character is well placed. Pura K grew up from an old rich family; she's well schooled and connected. But her family fortune is fast dwindling. This contest, her 4th, would hopefully take her back to her rightful social status. However, at the back of my mind, I couldn't help but think of the adorable Carla Abellana and what she could have done with the role. If you've seen her last year in "Shake, Rattle and Roll - Punerarya" (also produced by Regal Films), you would know what we're talking about.

Solenn is paired with the very green Mikael Daez as Ricardo, the kept boy (originally played by Ricky Belmonte). But Daez was unexpectedly droll. There was hardly a hint of romantic spark between the two. What's worse, Mikael doesn't register as well as he did in his Jollibee commercial or his boobtube personas for that matter. To be fair, this is his first film - shot just a few months into his entry in the business. To my mind, he could have done better with Alfredo's role - the cono jock who's smart and dependable. Aljur could have essayed the perfect callboy Ricardo. I am nevertheless looking forward to his next projects. Despite this debacle, Daez seems like a promising personality.

Alfie Anido: sorely missed!

John Lapus can't hold a candle to Jonas Sebastian's Joshua, the pageant impresario with a kept boy, who later becomes errr... "food"? Joshua is a pivotal role, taking the film's campiness to theatrical frolic. In fact, he bears a number of iconic lines, including references to the movie's title:

"How can you resist all the temptations in this island?"

"It's a sabotage, an accident, a twist of fate."

"There ought to be a law against social climbers. They ought to be executed."

"This is like Cairo, a perfect spot for a camel ride."

Lapus doesn't have the verbal cadence and vocal flourish of Sebastian, though on the whole, Lapus is a serviceable Joshua.

Aljur Abrenica takes his Machete role to heart: wooden!

Rufa Mae Quinto updates the maid's role Nympha (played originally by Deborah Sun) and owns it like it was written for her. She's always had this sardonic take on pedestrian lines, her impeccable wit at delivery is just pure joy. She simply cracks me up. There were a few scenes that showcased her comedic talent: when she was making a bench out of the dunes; her "dance of the seven veils" that ushered the scene where everyone else falls into the lure of the island; her blind servitude to her mean employer, etc.

Mikael Daez plays kept boy-photographer Ricardo.

But among the bevy of beauties on display, it is Lovi Poe who shines the brightest! She's perfectly attuned to her character - catty, ambitious, maid-toting Serafina, played in the original by Jennifer Cortez. When she flips her hair and waves a stick against her enemies, she embodies this snooty girl who looks down on everyone. She's this seductress; the vamp from hell, and obviously, Panday's sophisticated daughter. What a joy to watch!

Much of the script has been kept intact, even the treatment of scenes has been carefully studied to remain faithful to the original. Sure, cyber technology has been adequately placed, but not much else. Martinez also did away with the protracted and useless contestants' speeches that characterized the concluding portion of the original. And this time, Cristina G chooses the right man for her.

Are we in favor of the idea of remaking and updating "Temptation Island"? Absolutely! A whole new generation is not familiar with the original. There are people who wouldn't take the time to watch a grainy, almost black-and-white 1980's film. Some stories deserve to be told - again! Though this work isn't as fun as its predecessor, Martinez rides his humble boat by carefully tweaking its story line into something as close to the original - in all its campy and artistic sensibilities. It's a tough act to follow. But this is Chris Martinez, one of the most brilliant directors of his generation.

Tom Rodriguez plays the waiter Umberto.

Alfie Anido was the original Aldredo, played in the current version by Aljur Abrenica.

Monday, July 18, 2011

"Tamara Drewe" - Ugly Duckling Retold in Peculiar Thomas Hardy Tale

“I love your new hooter.”

“I’ve got a skip coming tomorrow.”

“I’m making a new scoop for my Buff Orpingtons.”

“I spent six years stone out of my box.”

“I’ve invested in a polytunnel full of ganja.”

“I simply pander to popular taste.”

“A bit brash vrooming through the village.”

“I think the word is gobshite.”

“My heartiest commiserations.”

“I’ve trod on the sponge mix.”

“… that muscle bound wastrel.”

“You low rent pedant.”

So if you think you’re reading on gibberish, you’d be wrong. But there’s no mistaking, I was almost in dire need of an Oxford dictionary to get through the verbal text of Stepehn Frear’s “Tamara Drewe”.

This is another one of those deliciously hilarious study of manners from the Brits. Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton) is enjoying a gratifying homecoming in the bucolic Dorset town of Ewedown (“you-down”). Sure, this has something to do with getting rid of her dear departed mom’s property, but Tamara is coming home a gorgeous damsel after a rhinoplasty (a nose job) that radically turned her life around. These days, she is a popular tabloid columnist. Indeed, life sure comes easy for the beautiful, as a struggling writer Glen (Bill Camp) would say.

Once again, Tamara gets to renew acquaintance with the Hardiments, the long suffering, put-upon wife Beth (Tamsin Greig) and serial infidel and best-selling writer Nicholas (Roger Allam); with the still-gorgeous odds-man-cum-gardener Andy Cobb (Luke Evans); with the Hardiment’s B&B guests.

On top of that, Tamara is enjoying a sexually charged relationship with a bratty rock drummer Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper). And bored school girls Jody and Casey are hot on his heels. But what happens to Andy’s renewed interest in the now-gorgeous Tamara? They once scorched the barns in illicit rendezvous, but Tamara’s humongous nose – and his mates’ pressure - became too much to bear for the young Andy. They called her “beaky”. To add spice to the narrative broth, rocker Ben (who’s on the romantic rebound) proposes to Tamara, Then a confounding email arrives at the inbox of writer Nicholas, rocker Ben, and gardener Andy. What is going on here?

Director Stephen Frears gave us “Dangerous Liaisons”, Helen Mirren’s “The Queen” (where Mirren won Oscar Best Actress in 2006), and Brit classics “My Beautiful Laundrette” (with Daniel Day-Lewis) and “Prick Up Your Ears” (Gary Oldman). Each title as compelling as the next, but it’s hard to peg him in a particular genre. This one’s in the vein of other quirky British rom-coms like “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, “Full Monty”, etc. that navigate around a group of characters written in peculiar and idiosyncratic fashion.

Gemma Arterton sashays into town and its easy to understand why men fall off their seats for her attention but there’s something a bit superficial about Tamara’s character. This is a girl who openly underlines cosmetic surgery as a means to getting things (“When I was ugly, I had no problem getting taken seriously.”); a girl who, despite her affection with a guy, sleeps with another instead because he’s as beautiful as Dominic Cooper (“Mamma Mia!”, “The Duchess”, “An Education”). Moreover, it's rather an uphill battle empathizing with a protagonist who doesn't think twice about sleeping with married men - old, wrinkly, hairy and lecherous. Though based on Thomas Hardy’s dark and brooding “Far From The Madding Crowd”, this adapted Possy Simmonds' graphic novel character takes the comedic detour that tackles infidelity, pent-up infatuations, and tips on circumventing the dreaded writer’s block (“write like you’re talking to a friend”, is one).

I guess part of the fun is in deciphering the seemingly “foreign language” countenance of this inherently British movie. I always thought that when they say “hooter”, they meant “breasts”. Here, they meant “nose”. And “Buff Orpingtons” refer to a special breed of chicken. What about "wastrel"? Go get a dictionary.

Nicholas and Beth

Dominic Cooper as bratty drummer Ben Sergeant.

School girls find their Uncle Andy heartbroken.

Gemma Arterton (above and below): Gorgeous!

Gemma Arterton in her skimpy two-piece.

Luke Evans plays odds man-cum-gardener Andy.

Dominic Cooper

Director Stephen Frears

Friday, July 15, 2011

Film Master's Spotlight: "The Refuge" - Another Francois Ozon Masterpiece

Mousse and Louis (Isabelle Carre and Melvin Poupaud) are a young, attractive couple too drowned out by their excessive drug habit to realize that they're luckier than most. They spend their days knocked out by heroin, then wakes to shoot up another syringe-concoction. One day, Mousse wakes up dazed and disoriented. She is in a hospital. She learns that she's pregnant. Where is Louis?

The succeeding days are a blur. Mousse dresses up to attend a funeral. Louis'. She meets Paul, Louis' younger brother, and his mother whose affluence has allowed her to be callous and apathetic towards Mousse's condition. In fact, she wants no reminders of Louis. "Get rid of it," she orders Mousse. She nods for congeniality.

Several months later, we find Paul arriving at a quaint seaside town far from Paris. He knocks - and Mousse lets him in. Paul's visit would usher us into an interesting, albeit undefined dynamics between pregnant Mousse and the dreamily gorgeous Paul, who "doesn't like girls," quips Mousse.

Like most of Francois Ozon's stories, the narrative in "The Refuge" (aka "Hideaway") is exploratory. People dealing with grief and the ties that bind people; with sexual ambiguity and the psychological trappings of attraction - each entity becomes tenable. Unusually told in a rather unsentimental demeanor, the cinematic canvas teems with beautiful sceneries and bright, sunshiny locales, as though its main protagonists aren't dealing with Louis' death. This idiosyncratic convention of story telling further fuels the viewer's interest as we are made acutely aware of Louis' image constantly hovering between clipped conversations.

Ozon's choice of actors are spot on. Though Isabelle Carre was second choice after another actress backs out, most of the working script was devised around Carre who was pregnant at the time of the shoot - her emotions, her moods, the food she ate, etc. But the choice for Paul puts Ozon on his mettle when he picked Leonard Cohen-sounding singer Louis-Ronan Choisy, who has never acted prior to this film. Ozon knew he didn't want a professional actor to play Paul. "I wanted to place a "virgin", someone very pure, opposite an experienced actress like Isabelle," Ozon said in an interview. What did he see in singer Louis? "I met him at a concert and liked his "tormented soul" sensitivity and his beauty, which he seemed embarrassed about. His fragility as a non-professional actor appealed to me and blended in with the character’s fragility: This was Paul."

As an interesting side note, Ozon also wanted Louis' voice (as a singer) to be part of the film. He wanted a lingering strain, much like a theme song that reminds them of Paul's departed brother. Easy, right? Think again. Francois wanted to listen to the singer's CDs to see if there's a song that would work with the film. No such luck, so the singer was commissioned to write one during the shoot of the film.

The singer offered: "I liked the idea, I found it amusing, but it turned out to be quite challenging. I was so tired! Even playing piano came less naturally. François got very involved in the songwriting process, letting me know if he liked the direction I was taking or not."

"He wanted a sweet, melancholy song, like a lullaby. I based the song on Mon Ami Pierrot and pictured a nocturnal ambiance, a bedroom, flickering candles... I wanted the lyrics to be kind of fuzzy, like in a dream, something that might correspond to the love between Mousse and Louis, who found comfort in drugs, or to Mousse and Paul, who take comfort in each other after Louis’ death. I wasn’t interested in specific details, I wanted to create an atmosphere. François encouraged me to keep it simple, to loop the melody like a ritornello. He also helped me with the lyrics at one point. We worked on it in the evenings, after a day of shooting. That’s what we did for fun!"

The song which Paul sang for Mousse was "something we always listened to as children", recalled Paul. It had a haunting melody, but the lyrics were even unconventional, almost cryptic. I remembered wanting to pause it for its lyrics, but I couldn't stop myself from listening (with Paul playing the piano).

In the same interview, Louis was asked: Did the idea of playing a homosexual character frighten you in any way?

Louis replied: "No, but I would have been frightened if Franc
̧ois had asked me to caricature Paul’s homosexuality. What I find particularly interesting about Paul is that he’s seeking his identity, his sexuality is not clearly defined."

In a diverting scene, Mousse finds herself in Paul's bed. She inadvertently wakes him up, and the sexually ambiguous Paul finds himself making love with the very pregnant Mousse. "That was beautiful," she would later compliment Paul. Despite a simple story, nothing is conventional in Francois Ozon's latest potboiler.

Ozon weaves a tale that's reverent to his audience. He never spoonfeeds, and he constantly provokes. He almost never resorts to overt sentimentality, but the end product usually lingers long after the credits roll. And I am a proud Francois Ozon admirer. I better get to watching Ozon's "Angel" (his very first English language flick) - soon! I wonder how I can get a copy of Ozon's latest, "Potiche" with French icon, Catherine Deneuve.

Louis and Mousse concoct a spoonful.

Mousse during the funeral.

Louis-Ronan Choisy (who goes by "Louis" as a singer), Isabelle Carre and director Francois Ozon.

Isabelle Carre and Louis-Ronan Choisy share a laugh.

Louis-Ronan Choisy - the singer: dreamy and "tormented" (above and below).

Melvil Poupaud in Ozon's "Time to Leave". Ozon on choosing Poupaud for the role of Louis: "I immediately thought of Melvil Poupaud, but I had some scruples about calling him: I’d already killed him in 'Time to Leave'. Now I’d be killing him again, and this time, within the first fifteen minutes of the film! But I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. He was immediately interested and enthusiastic. He brought his natural charisma and a certain realism to the drug scenes. I knew that eliminating him quickly would leave a void that would make us feel more empathy for Mousse and share her feelings."

Melvil Poupaud as a model.