It was love at first sight.
The first frame of Joel Ferrer’s Elise is a close-up of Janine Gutierrez, who plays the titular lady, staring longingly at the audience. A guitar rendition of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” delicately plays in the background. While undeniably alluring, it wasn’t that first frame that will put the audience under a spell. It is what comes after.
A schoolgirl is being punished by a stern teacher.
While all the other students are busy reacting to the spectacle of their classmate being humiliated in front of the entire class, a minuscule boy quietly turns to his side and surreptitiously picks his nose. Amidst the ruckus, the schoolgirl being punished looks intensely at the boy who happens to be busy cleaning his nose.
It wasn’t love at first sight for the two children. However, the two found themselves at that right place and time where they shared the joyful awkwardness of youth, of either being the center of attraction for all the wrong reasons, or being oblivious of any social graces. In one spritely sequence, Ferrer fully comprehended the discreet charm of reminiscence. I can’t help but be immediately smitten.
Elise isn’t so much a straightforward story about a regular guy and his many brushes with love as it is a heartfelt ode to remembering.
The past is told in fragments. They are essentially carved-out tales for Bert who returns to his hometown carrying an antique music box that plays Beethoven’s famous composition, to tell an impatient little girl he promised his former teacher to accompany home.
It is this episodic quality of Elise that grants it a certain tentativeness that allows Ferrer to infuse humor into passages that are supposed to be draped in seriousness or to veil surprising sincerity in moments that are played as gags.
The film thrives in this miraculous balance of pain and mirth. It never abandons its youthful verve for drab gravity, and instead treats both romance and tragedy with the same wide-eyed curiosity of a teenager wading through life with barely any presumptions and expectations.
Pegs, categories, and genres
The screenplay, which Ferrer co-wrote with Miko Livelo, is smartly oblivious to categories and genres.
The pegs are apparent. The film’s insistence on making its charismatically imperfect hero a passive recipient of fate’s generosity and cruelty is akin to Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump (1994), where Tom Hanks played a memorable simpleton who had to endure the tribulations of 20th century America just to end up with his beloved Jenny.
However, Elise differentiates itself by acknowledging its limits, scaling its story not to aggrandize its protagonist with astounding brushes with history but to celebrate his modesty.
The film sustains the sense of wonder by indulging in bits of character-driven mischief and hilarious escapades, all of which only add to the sublime act of remembrance.
Elise has romance. It is also a comedy. Yet, the film is more than just the average romantic comedy where the ambitions of characters are constrained to the search for ideal love. Ferrer’s film is so much more than just a fantasy that burdens romantic love to provide a semblance of escape for its audience. It feels like most of the creative effort is focused towards molding an equally festive and hurtful past that is worth the aches of not just remembering alone but sharing to strangers through parables and anecdotes.
Purity and razzle-dazzle
Elise is just one lovely film where elements that do not normally gel beautifully collide.
Dee churns out a performance that maximizes not just his distinct charms but also a surprising intuition for comedy, turning Bert into an enduring presence from start to finish. Gutierrez is a revelation. She opens the film as an ideal vision, a goal so far to be grasped. By the film’s end, she completes that image with a bevy of beautiful imperfections. She is satisfyingly human.
Elise is immeasurably generous.
It isn’t ashamed of its purity and frank lack of razzle-dazzle. In all its unabashed display of characters seemingly in a perpetual state of cheery immaturity, the film reveals Ferrer as a filmmaker capable of maturity amidst a body of work that leers longingly at that uncomplicated youth and past that we have sadly left behind. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ Tirad Pass.
Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.
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