Women are often defined by the people that surround them. They are their parents’ daughters, their husbands’ wives, and their children’s mothers. A woman defining her own person outside of these labels undergoes a long and laborious process that’s never easy. In Belle Douleur, we are taken into a journey of self-actualization and are returned as people who have a bit more love for ourselves in our hearts.
Liz is neither a wife, a mother, or a daughter when we first meet her. She’s floating in a suspended state of grief after she shed her only label due to the death of her mother. She doesn’t know how to be truly alone, so she clings onto things she doesn’t need; as if clinging onto a life she’s outgrown but has become attached to. And when she meets Josh, she clings onto her attraction to him despite her lack of foundational independence. Over time, she grows, but she realizes that the things Josh needs—which she cannot give—was growing, and she had to make a choice.
At first glance, especially after watching the trailer, you’ll be reminded of a film with a similar older-woman-younger-man situation. In this year’s Cinemalaya, two such films belong in the category, and while Belle Douleur is one of them, it deviates from the types of films we’ve seen before by presenting characters you’d actually root for. There is no bad guy to hate in this film; only human beings trying to go through life.
Joji Alonso’s directorial debut deserves all the praise it’s getting for bringing to the screen a story an audience can easily fall into. However, it’s not a perfect film—there were some narrative and technical aspects that needed improvement. There were far too many unnecessary sex scenes. Had they cut out two-thirds of the sex scenes, the final one where Liz mourns for their relationship would have had a much bigger impact. (One good sex scene would beat out a montage of awkward sex with sloppy transitions any day.)
Perhaps my only real gripe with Belle Douleur lies in its conflict resolution. It felt weak, like something that even the writer wasn’t a hundred percent sure about, like it was there just because the movie needed to end somehow. There were multiple ways the film could have ended with the same strong message of self-actualization intact, but they took the route where Liz plays cupid. It felt rushed. If they had given half of the time from the sex scenes to the resolution, maybe it would have played out better and the pacing wouldn’t have felt so crooked. Liz got whatever closure she got from Josh, sure, but them trying to tie it to the themes of grief and mourning from the beginning of the film just lacked so much.
Thank God for Mylene Dizon.