Cannes Film Festival

[Only IN Hollywood] A triangle of success in Cannes: Dolly de Leon, ‘Plan 75,’ and ‘Itim’

Ruben V. Nepales
[Only IN Hollywood] A triangle of success in Cannes: Dolly de Leon, ‘Plan 75,’ and ‘Itim’
The Filipinos were a true triple threat on the Croisette!

CANNES, France – It turned out to be an early celebration dinner. Two nights before the closing night of the 75th Cannes Film Festival, Triangle of Sadness’ breakthrough actress, Dolly de Leon, was the special guest in an intimate dinner hosted by mother and daughter – both actresses and producers – Evelyn Knaebel-Vargas and Bianca Zialcita.

Jaz Bernardino, another producer, and Angelic Comiso, a production manager, were also at our table.

CHEERS. A champagne toast turned out to be a precursor of good news. Seated, front: Evelyn Vargas-Knaebel and ‘Triangle of Sadness’ actress Dolly de Leon; back: Rappler columnist Ruben V. Nepales, Janet R. Nepales, Bianca Zialcita, Jaz Bernardino, and Angelic Comiso. Contributed photo

That evening, Dolly, who runs away with Ruben Ostlund’s film, was still deciding whether to stay in Cannes and attend the awards night.

Then who would walk by but my tocayo filmmaker himself, Ruben, and his lovely wife, fashion photographer Sina Gortz? It turned out that they were having dinner in the same restaurant, so after the hellos and “Kodakan,” they proceeded to their own table for two. It was the couple’s date night, a break from the festival madness. 

Bianca ordered champagne to celebrate for several reasons, including Dolly’s rave reviews as a luxury yacht toilet cleaner who later becomes a dominant character in writer-director Ruben’s wicked satire on wealth, class, and social media.

Alemberg Ang, the Filipino co-producer of director Chie Hayakawa’s Plan 75, showed up to join our group. The international production, also featuring a Filipina actress in another breakout role, Stefanie Arianne, earned good reviews.

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And a restored version of Mike de Leon’s Itim had a successful world premiere at Salle Buñuel in the Palais des Festivals. We toasted all this good news as the world’s most prestigious film festival was winding down.

And there was even better news on the final night inside the Grand Theatre Lumiere. Chie’s Plan 75, a drama that imagines Japan holding a program that encourages euthanasia among its senior citizens, was one of the evening’s early winners. The film, Alemberg’s first official Cannes entry as a co-producer, won the Camera d’Or’s Special Mention.

SPECIAL MENTION. ‘Plan 75’ director Chie Hayakawa (second from left), presented her Un Certain Regard entry, with her cast and producers, including Hayato Isomura, Stefanie Arianne and Alemberg Ang (in barong). Photo by Ruben V. Nepales

Then the night wore on. We thought the show was over, but suddenly, the main competition jury president, French actor Vincent Lindon, announced that Triangle of Sadness won the plum Palme d’Or. In his acceptance speech, a beaming Ruben made it a point to cite Dolly, who was in the audience and was vigorously applauded by the crowd.

After going through the photocall and press line with Ruben, Dolly chatted with us on her way to the after-party.

GOLD. Dolly de Leon, elegant in a gown by her friend Ann Cuatico, on her way to the party after ‘Triangle of Sadness” Palme d’Or win. Photo by Ruben V. Nepales

Pretty in a gold gown made by her friend, Ann Cuatico, Dolly admitted, “It was really nerve-wracking since the list was getting shorter and shorter and I was not sure if we were still a contender. Then I heard them mention Ruben’s name, the title of our film, and oh, what a feeling!”

“I am so high, so happy!” the Pinay actress exclaimed. “I was really praying that we would get it because we all worked so hard to get it. This is my first time in Cannes and so I am so happy that we got the Palme d’Or. I am so proud and happy for all of us.”

“Siyempre kinilig ako,” Dolly said with a grin when asked how she felt when Ruben gave a special shoutout to her in his remarks onstage. “Ruben is always looking out for all of us. He was so sweet when he invited me to this event since everybody had left already. So when he called me and invited me to this event, I was really so happy.”

Told that the film’s triumph is also a win for workers everywhere, including OFWs (overseas Filipino workers), who are represented by her character and the Pinoy yacht crew who were cast in Europe, the UP alumna answered, “It is a win for all of us. It is a win for Filipinos because we are represented in an international film that is well-made and very beautiful. We also celebrate because it is a victory for OFWs as well, because it shows the world that we are great, we are brilliant and powerful.”

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Asked how she was going to celebrate the night, Dolly pointed to the nearby tented party site and said, “The after-party is actually over there. I am excited to meet a lot of great actors and filmmakers. I feel so privileged to be meeting great minds and talented people. I already met some of them inside the theater.”

And with those words, the Filipina actress who made quite a splash in the top film festival walked over to the after-party. It’s really remarkable that it took a Swedish film to showcase Dolly’s talent.

May there be more international films like Triangle of Sadness and Plan 75 that create breakthrough roles for Filipino actors. Dolly and Stefanie are sterling examples of the breadth and depth of the Pinoy acting pool.

Good news to folks in the Philippines who can’t wait to watch Triangle of Sadness – TBA Studios will release the film there in late September, around or just after the US release date.

Speaking of Stefanie, she was still shaking and crying after the audience stood and cheered for several minutes following the premiere of Plan 75 in Salle Debussy. Stefanie, Chie, and another actor in the film, Hayato Isomura, faced the clapping crowd as Alemberg, Wilfredo Manalang (aka Will Fredo), and the other producers happily stood by.

SMILES. Two nights before the winning evening (L-R): Ruben V. Nepales, Alemberg Ang, Ruben Ostlund, Sina Gortz, Evelyn Vargas-Knaebel, Bianca Zialcita, Jaz Bernardino, Dolly de Leon, Angelic Comiso, and Janet R. Nepales. Photo by Ruben V. Nepales

The restored version of Mike de Leon’s Itim was also well-received when it world-premiered at Salle Buñuel. Thierry Fremaux himself, Cannes’ festival director, presented the film with Gil Quito, the film’s co-writer (Doy del Mundo, Jr. is the other writer), and Vincent Paul-Boncour of Carlotta Films, which will release Itim and other restored obras of Mike in France.

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Gil and Vincent talked about the film with Thierry. Vincent also read Mike’s prepared remarks to the audience.

Originally released in 1976, Itim (The Rites of May) stands the test of time. I was again mesmerized by the film’s quietly eerie vibe and performances. The restoration enhanced the film, made the subdued colors appear even more dramatic, and added to the subtle yet compelling atmospherics.

And Mike truly deserves plaudits for eliciting top-rate performances from the entire cast, including Charo Santos-Concio, Tommy Abuel, Mario Montenegro, Mona Lisa, Susan Valdez- Le Goff, Sarah K. Joaquin, and Moody Diaz. Gil later told us that he especially enjoyed the audience’s reactions to the lines spoken by Moody.

Earlier at the film’s pre-screening reception, Vincent and some of the Cannes staff made quite a striking sight in their Itim shirts.

BLACK. Gil Quito and Vincent Paul-Boncour, third and fourth from left, respectively, flanked by Cannes Film Festival staff in ‘Itim’ t-shirts. Photo by Ruben V. Nepales

The rest of our two weeks on the Croisette were a wonderful feast of film after film.

Amid the frenzy, two spots provided refuge from the festival mania: the American Pavilion, which the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) sponsored this year, and the Philippine Pavilion. HFPA hosted panel discussions in the former – “Empowering Women Behind the Lens” and a conversation with Cannes filmmaker first-timers.

The Philippine Pavilion, with its welcoming staff led by Liza Diño, chairperson and CEO of the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), was where everyone eventually met up or bumped into each other.

LIZA. Liza Dino, chairperson and CEO of Film Development Council of the Philippines, at the Philippine Pavilion. Photo by Ruben V. Nepales

New and familiar faces abounded – Arleen Cuevas, Melissa Alviar, TBA Studios’ Cindy Sison and Rogielou Patapat, Aaron Hunt, Martin Arnaldo, Ed Lejano, and many more.

FDCP hosted a Philippine Cinema Night, featuring the Filipinos’ favorite pastime, karaoke singing, but with a twist – it was held in an Irish pub.

A lunch in Cap d’Antibes also offered a refreshing break from the Croisette frenzy.

Another welcome respite was hopping on a boat to attend the inaugural Bulles Awards which honor environmental scientists and activists in Pierre Cardin’s famed Bubble Palace. Located on top of a hill in Theoule-sur-Mer, the Antti Lovag-designed palais of round shapes and curves, lit at night in neon colors, was quite a trip.

BUBBLES. Pierre Cardin’s famed Bubble Palace served as a colorful setting for the inaugural Bulles Awards, which honored environmental scientists and activists during the Cannes Film Festival. Photo by Ruben V. Nepales

If only Cannes’ screening ticketing system wasn’t such a nightmare, it would have been a perfect film festival-going experience. The online procedure of screening tix becoming available at 7 every morning made the chances of winning the Lotto seem an easier goal.

We can devote an entire column about waking up early each day only to watch our laptops freeze, or to log on again and again, or to find that tix are no longer available after all our efforts. Those were the only times when Cannes meant Can’t. –

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Ruben V. Nepales

Based in Los Angeles, Ruben V. Nepales is an award-winning journalist whose honors include prizes from the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards, a US-wide competition, and the Southern California Journalism Awards, presented by the Los Angeles Press Club.