Written by Jayson Laniba
Cherie Gil remains to be one of this generation’s best actresses, and her passing away in August early this year leaves a hole in our hearts forever. Sadly, this film which serves as her last big screen performance is not the exquisite swan song we expected it to be.
The film follows Dra. Celina De Miranda (Gil) who returns to Mirador, her ex-husband’s ancestral villa, to follow his wish to have his ashes scattered into the sea. She hopes that in this way, she and her husband will finally have their own closure. But right after she arrives on the island, she is confronted by the ghosts of her husband’s past affairs and haunted by her frustration of not being able to bear him a child, which may have led to their failed marriage. On top of this, her husband’s ashes get stolen before she could accomplish her plans. She believes one of his former mistresses on the island took him. Unable to bid her farewell properly, she plunges into desolation, and finds herself attracted to her husband’s possible illegitimate son, Jasper (Ross Pesigan).
“Elehiya” poster designed by Justin Besana (courtesy of QCinema).
Originally entitled “Mirador” (which I think is the more fitting title here), this psychological drama from writers Raquel Villavicencio and director Loy Arcenas works so hard to find its footing, but like its main character who’s desperate to get her closure, this film also never finds one. It’s a shame actually, because Gil gives another wonderful performance here, but the film itself fails to live up even just to her presence. While I understand that the film had a rather difficult journey just to get to the big screen after the country and the entire world got swept by the pandemic and its stars passed away before the movie’s completion, it’s simply difficult to look past its faults and flaws.
It starts slow, complementing its character’s state of mind. She’s mourning the loss of her husband, Rafael De Miranda – a beloved doctor of the island, but behind the comforts of their villa lies all his infidelities. Still, she loves him for what he was and longs for his presence and even his touch. She never even liked Mirador as “it moans and groans under the weight of the family’s history.” But for him, she’s willing to spend a few days in their villa so she could accomplish his wishes.
The script becomes rather playful, even lurid at some point in the film’s second act, when she starts to lose herself and becomes attracted to Rafael’s rumored illegitimate son to one of the villa’s maids (Sue Prado). Here, the pacing picks up as she tries desperately to get close to him. It’s not clear how all of this happened: Is it because he reminds her of her late husband, or is she acting under the influence by the villa who seemed to drive everyone who lives in it mad, figuratively (like how Rafael, his brother, and even Jasper act like wild, horny animals, turning the place into their own motel) and literally (like Jasper’s mom). This could have been fun, but Arcenas treats the entire film too seriously despite the ridiculous premise. Things become increasingly crazy, but the direction doesn’t seem to notice it. Because of this, the film falls flat from start to finish, wasting its potential.
The visuals, similar to the direction, also looks bland, with the camera work having the quality of a digital movie from the early 2000s. It’s as if the one holding the camera got his hands on a digicam for the first time, zooming in and out repeatedly in many scenes like shooting a home video.
Performance-wise, Gil shines as she embraces the character of Celine, with a committed turn that keeps you hooked from start to finish. Other than her, the rest of the cast seems to be on autopilot. She’s the only one who gives this film some life, but sadly that’s not enough to save the entire film from turning into a big disappointment.
Once the credit rolls, one can’t help but feel empty and dissatisfied. The film comes and goes with a whimper, and much like its protagonist, it isn’t sure where it’s heading or where it wants to go. For sure, Cherie Gil’s memory lives on, but sadly, not in this movie.