Jerrold Tarog on his new film, ‘Bliss’: “It’s way harder than ‘Heneral Luna’”

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Award-winning director Jerrold Tarog (along with lead actress Iza Calzado) talks about “Bliss,” a psycho-thriller about an actress who wants to be taken seriously — a work that proved to be far more difficult than the director’s previous outing, “Heneral Luna.” Photo by SHAIRA LUNA

Osaka, Japan (CNN Philippines Life) — Jerrold Tarog’s latest film, entitled “Bliss,” recently premiered at the 12th Osaka Asian Film Festival where the film is also in competition. The film stars Iza Calzado as Jane Ciego, a 30-something actress who decides to produce her own film in an effort to make the showbiz industry take her more seriously.  

Written, directed, edited and scored by Tarog himself, the director says that “Bliss” has been his most demanding film to date. The psychological thriller’s “far out” script, as described by Calzado herself, posed a challenge in the way Tarog told stories, as “Bliss” is narrated in a non-linear fashion.

After the success of “Heneral Luna,” Tarog told himself that he would gun for an easier film. As it turns out, he ended up working for a more difficult project in “Bliss,” one that juxtaposes dreams and reality, and struggles to identify the point where the former ends and the latter begins.

CNN Philippines Life sat down with Tarog and Calzado right after the world premiere of “Bliss” in Osaka, to talk about the challenges of making the film, how the audience reacted to it during the world premiere, and what almost ended their friendship.

 

"Bliss" is about a 30-something actress who got sick of the industry and decided to produce her own film. Was this what attracted you most to the role?

Iza Calzado: To be honest, what attracted me to the role was that it was a psycho-thriller. I love psycho-thrillers. And of course it helped, that this guy named Jerrold Tarog had just done a hit film. So syempre parang ikaw, I wanna work with that “Heneral Luna” guy.  So he texted me. I was actually in LA, and he said, “Are you interested to read for a part in a psycho-thriller?” Sabi ko pa “fuck yeah” tapos naisip ko, “Hindi pala kami close, sorry sorry nagmura ako, na-excite ako.”

I think he wasn't sure if I was open to auditioning but I am, I always am. Because I think it should be part of the process really. You have to know if the director sees you in that light. It’s more rewarding if you audition for it, in my opinion, then you actually get the part. I actually didn't know the premise pa when na-excite ako, then he sent me the script. That was the first step, then I was like, “Medyo wild ‘to, medyo far out!” So we did the audition then I got it.

Iza Calzado.jpg "What attracted me to the role was that it was a psycho-thriller," says Iza Calzado. "I love psycho-thrillers. And of course it helped, that this guy named Jerrold Tarog had just done a hit film. So syempre parang ikaw, I wanna work with that 'Heneral Luna' guy." Photo by SAMANTHA LEE

The story is not my life, but it’s where I’m at in life but parang siya kasi, my character Jane Ciego, she wanted to be taken seriously. Actually, mas superstar pa siya kaysa sa akin. Pero ‘yung inabot niya, hindi siya sineseryoso ng mga tao. Kaya sabi niya gusto lang nya magka-award. So that was very interesting to me and it was actually quite funny.

I heard that “Bliss” was a really difficult film to make. Can you tell us more about it?

Jerrold Tarog: It’s actually the storytelling that was way, way harder than “Luna.” Kasi aside from non-linear siya, there’s also the idea of dreams versus reality and dreams within dreams and a film within a film, so nakakalula siya.

Iza Calzado: Same for me. I got sick twice. We were filming 25 hours a day, one scene after the other. Minsan, pahinga ko lang talaga lunch and dinner. Because I’m in like 70 percent of the film. So it was demanding for me but more for him because in so many ways, he did the whole film —  wrote it, directed it, edited it, scored it. It was his vision talaga.

Was it physically the hardest film you’ve had to make?

Jerrold Tarog: Yes kasi we all had to pay attention to the continuity — pretty much if we’re shooting the dream or the real stuff. Mahirap siya. Also we shot in the middle of summer in Cainta which was super init.

That’s a lot considering at that time you just finished “Heneral Luna.”

Jerrold Tarog: I know, after “Luna” I said I wanted to do an easier movie and it ended up being way harder than “Luna” and then now I’m back to an even harder project.

Iza Calzado: Physically demanding siya in so many ways so I hope people appreciate it. 

"It’s actually the storytelling that was way, way harder than 'Luna.' Kasi aside from non-linear siya, there’s also the idea of dreams versus reality and dreams within dreams and a film within a film, so nakakalula siya."

Iza, you seem to be attracted to a lot of horror slash thriller films —

Iza Calzado: It’s actually them who are attracted to me. I would love to do a rom-com but no one has given me a call asking me to do rom-com.

But you did a rom-com last year?

Iza Calzado:My Candidate.” Yes. But my role was still quite serious. Actually when I was watching that, I’m Shaina [Magdayao] in real life. 'Yung pagka-hiphop, that’s me in real life. Onscreen, they see me in a different light, for some reason, I don’t know if it was my dark long hair before, or if I have an expression on my face … Jerrold, why me? Is it because I’m cute?

Jerrold Tarog: Kasi ikaw si Jane Ciego.

 

How did you find the reception of the audience after you premiered the film here in Osaka?

Iza Calzado: The Japanese loved it. I don’t know if they were just being polite, but they loved it.

Jerrold Tarog: It was very positive actually and nagulat ako. May point kasi na I get really detached from my work and hindi ko na ma-gauge kung ano 'yung mararamdaman ng audience. After the Q&A I heard na nagustuhan nila, I’m very relieved.

Iza Calzado: It was my first time to watch it today, it’s such a challenging piece that I’m glad it actually came together in the end. Even that in itself is an accomplishment. Because it’s so wild. The concept. Naitahi niya.

Sabi ko sa kanya kagabi [over dinner], “Je, enjoy mo na 'yan, libre ko na ‘to, kasi baka bukas hindi na kita friend. ‘Pag hindi ko type 'yung film hindi na tayo friends.”

So sabi ko sa kanya kanina [after the premiere], “Friends pa rin tayo.”

After the positive reception in Japan, are you looking forward to premiering the film in the Philippines? Will you be showing the same cut that you showed here?

Jerrold Tarog: Oo, at the same time kabado rin kasi iba 'yung audience sa Pilipinas. So I wouldn't know how they will react to it. I’m not sure if we’re going to have an R16 cut because the way things are going, we’re probably going to have an R18 rating.

Iza Calzado: Very, very nervous. I was more nervous before but now that I've seen it, it’s a different kind of nervous. It’s knowing that I’m not sure they will appreciate it. It’s a different kind of film. But when I did it and when I accepted it, klaro sa akin 'yun. We just wanted to make something not being made, to offer our audience something new.