By Stephanie Mayo
Joji V. Alonso, producer of many indie hits in the past, has done a remarkable job in her directorial debut Belle Douleur, a May-December love story. It’s emotionally engaging—except the ending ruined the experience.
This is not because the ending is poorly done, but because the story’s conflict and resolution bear a striking resemblance to a 2017 online video that went viral, about the true story of a woman called Aryana Rose who, at the age of 45, fell in love with a 29-year-old man. Instead of feeling a mix of overwhelming emotions, you are startled. Like a slap in the face.
Aryana Rose recounted her powerful love story called “I Can Die Now” at a live event organized by The Moth, a non-profit group based in New York whose work is to entertain through the art of telling true stories, in podcasts or in live events. Now, May-December love affairs are common, but Aryana Rose’s affair with the younger man is one extraordinary tale, which made it famous and highly unforgettable.
Belle Douleur has the same conflict and ending. In the end credits of the film, a text appears that the movie is based on true events. Perhaps screenwriter Therese Cayaba based her story on Aryana Rose’s remarkable love affair—or at least its dénouement.
Or perhaps it is based on someone else’s May-December love affair—which happens to be similar to Aryana Rose’s. One can only guess, as the real-life couple from which Belle Douleur’s story is based on, is never mentioned. But because the ending is no longer new to me, it robbed me of all emotions.
Mylene Dizon plays Liz, a 45-year-old single woman who recently lost her mother. Upon the insistence of her best friends (Marlon Reyes and Jenny Jamora), she begins selling her mother’s things. This is when she meets Josh (Kit Thompson), a 26-year-old antiques dealer, who knocks at her door one early morning to check out her wares.
A steamy love affair soon begins. Compared to the morose Malamaya, Belle Douleur has a lighter approach, a rom-com that evokes a lot of feels. The humor is spot on, and Dizon and Thompson have sizzling chemistry.
Alonso, like a veteran director, skillfully captures the burgeoning relationship between an older woman and a younger man, from the giddy initial flirtations via text messages to the more intimate scenes. She knows how to build thrills, tension, and anticipation. All of this is enhanced by Myko David’s beautiful lensing.
The always competent Dizon is a joy to watch; she takes the audience to her journey into a new, exciting, and scary territory. Meanwhile, the rest of the cast members are a delight in their naturalistic performances, especially Jamora, who perfectly balances pain, sympathy, sardonic wit, and wisecracks. Cayaba’s script (she wrote and directed the unforgettable Delia & Sammy) is witty and emotionally engaging.
As Liz’s relationship with Josh deepens, you know it’s true love—and you wonder what sort of tragedy will soon rip them apart. Or where this will all lead. To marriage? To lies and deception?
When the conflict drops, it’s a strong one. And you wait with trepidation how Liz will resolve the conflict. And when she does, Aryana Rose’s story immediately comes to mind, like a bomb suddenly exploding. And eerily, Josh’s words in that overfamiliar scene—“Don’t leave me”—is even identical to the line uttered by Aryana Rose’s lover, Jean-Michel. Also, both Josh and Jean-Michel are musicians.
Belle Doueler triumphs in its rich tale of love and loss, a sensual and affecting May-December affair, bolstered by engaging performances from a wonderful cast ensemble (Rivera, though, is a little stiff and self-conscious). But, alas, if you’ve already seen Aryana Rose’s storytelling online, you won’t experience the impact of its powerful ending.
The acute awareness of a very similar story magnificently takes away the ending’s emotional resonance. If the end credits explicitly mentioned that this is based on, “or inspired by,” Aryana Rose’s “I Can Die Now,” then you would have stood up and clapped for a highly effective Filipino movie adaptation. But because you don’t know where Cayaba’s script is based from, you can only shrug.
2.5 out of 5 stars
This review was originally posted in the author’s column “Film Check” in the Aug. 7, 2019 issue of the Daily Tribune.