Piolo Pascual, John Lloyd Cruz are cool—Lav Diaz
Mainstream and indie need not be like oil and water.
Case in point: Filmmaker Lav Diaz, a leader in the Philippine indie movement, is working harmoniously with mainstream actors in his latest epic, “Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis” (working title), currently filming in Sorsogon.
Apart from Diaz returnees like Sid Lucero, Angel Aquino, Ronnie Lazaro and Bart Guingona, first-timers John Lloyd Cruz, Piolo Pascual, Cherie Gil, Susan Africa, Alessandra de Rossi and Bernardo Bernardo have joined the stellar ensemble, too.
The inclusion of Cruz and Pascual, known primarily for glossy romantic comedies, caught most observers by surprise.
Still, Diaz insisted that the two ABS-CBN actors blended well with the rest of the troupe. “They’re great. Cool na cool sila. John Lloyd plays Isagani, while Piolo is Simoun—characters in Jose Rizal’s ‘El Filibusterismo.’”
The man responsible for bringing these two worlds together is executive producer Paul Soriano, a filmmaker who straddles the mainstream and indie scenes as well.
In an exclusive interview, Soriano told the Inquirer that “Hele” is a “special” project.
“It’s special because it’s Lav Diaz,” he said, simply. “There is something magical and inspiring when you are around him. He brings out the best in you.”
Soriano considers this project a “master class on film.”
“I am learning so much from Lav. As a filmmaker, I always want to learn, experience and see new things, and this project is doing all these for me.”
The journey of discovery started during Soriano’s initial meeting with Diaz last year.
“I took on this challenge a year ago. I’ve always been curious as to how Lav tells his stories. After talking to Lav, you naturally become just as passionate about everything.”
Soriano has always admired Diaz’s aesthetics. “Lav Diaz was a name I would always hear when I attended film festivals abroad. He is regarded as a rock star in the international circuit. I was able to watch a couple of his films and enjoyed his most recent works, ‘Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan’ and ‘Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon.’ What I like about Lav is he works with what the earth gives him. He works organically and freely.”
Soriano offers a theory on why foreign critics love Lav. “It’s probably because he tells his story with no limitations at all and the heart and truth of his message is at the forefront of it all.”
Originally titled “The Great Desaparecido,” the script of “Hele” was written by Diaz in 1995, said producer Bianca Balbuena.
Two decades later, Diaz finally got to shoot his latest epic, described as a “love letter to the Philippines” that combines literature, folklore and history. “We worked very hard to bring all this together and the timing feels more than perfect,” said Soriano.
As bonus, “two of the country’s biggest actors” are included in “the powerful ensemble.”
“Piolo and John Lloyd fought to be in this project and, as producer, I made sure they would get to experience this film,” Soriano related. “I couldn’t be more thankful to them…It’s a blur and a dream to see them working together and to see their art moving…in front of the camera, while Lav guides and directs them from behind the camera.”
The first shooting day of the two actors went without a hitch last week. “We had a great first day. Piolo and John Lloyd are extremely professional and passionate actors. I can see that they are executing Lav’s vision perfectly. Seeing them in one frame together was intense and exciting.”
Cruz singled out “Melancholia,” while Pascual chose “Norte” as a favorite Diaz film.
Soriano gave credit to the two’s ABS-CBN bosses for allowing them to accept this indie film. “Charo Santos-Concio and Malou Santos saw the importance of this movie.” (Star Cinema is the film’s local distributor.)
Soriano has nothing but praise for Gil and De Rossi as well. “They are gifted actresses, true artists. They are sharing everything they have to give life to their characters. Working with great actors makes the job so much easier and fun.”
Although Africa was away for a month, her family “fully supported” her decision to travel to Sorsogon for “Hele.” “Lav is a breeze to work with,” she said.
Africa gave up three soap operas for the “once-in-a-lifetime” experience of being directed by Diaz. Seeing Sorsogon and “the mystical beauty of Mount Bulusan in its various moods” was an added incentive for Africa, too.
Soriano agreed: “Sorsogon is beautiful and Lake Bulusan, breathtaking. The location is key in telling the story. Shooting in a place like this allows everyone to feel, hear and breathe the reality of the characters.”
Soriano is hardly surprised that “Hele” has garnered support from numerous people from both the indie and mainstream scenes. “When you hear what the film is about and when you hear Lav talk about the film’s importance, you can’t help supporting it.”
Now, the entire team’s “big dream is for everyone to see the film.”
Soriano asserted, “It’s about time for Filipinos to take time to watch Lav’s films and appreciate his genius.”
And find out why the world loves Lav.
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