It is always interesting to watch a producer (the one who gets things done) becoming a director (the one who “demands” things to get done), and that is exactly the case with Joji Villanueva Alonso, who, after 15 years in production and more than 39 films, decided to try her hand directly behind the camera. “Belle Douleur” premiered at the Dhaka International Film Festival while it won the Audience Award at Cinemalaya.

The script was inspired by a 2017 online video that went viral, where a woman named Aryana Rose narrated her true story, of falling in love with a 29-year-old man while she was 45.

Following the same path, the film revolves around Liz, a 45-year-old clinical psychologist working with children with special needs, who has been living with her mother for many years, neglecting her personal life and being still single, despite the fact that she is quite good looking. When her mother dies, Liz feels lost, but her two friends, persuade her to start selling her mother’s old stuff, in order to empty the house and renovate it. They even put an online ad about the “bazaar” which soon brings Josh, a very handsome antique shop owner/rock musician 20 years younger than Liz at her door. Although reluctantly in the beginning, the two gradually find common ground in their loss, as Josh is also living alone after losing his father and grandfather, and a relationship soon blooms. The inevitable issues, however, eventually arise, although this time, the problem is not the people around the couple, but themselves.

Evidently, the romantic movie base of the narrative is quite common, as is the overall development of the story. However, Alonso has inserted a number of elements that move both towards the humoristic and the dramatic, thus making the film stand out. For starters, I found hilariously ironic that a young man who loves antiques falls in love with a woman 20 years older than him. The interaction with the obnoxious aunt after the funeral is funny as it is realistic. The fact that he is also a member of a band, may seem a bit unrealistic about how cool he is, but allows the film to show that his friends, who actually belong to the music circuit, are quite cool with him having a relationship with an older woman, even hitting it off with her when she attends his concert. Thirdly, the fact that their main issue is that she occasionally treats him like a mother, buying him groceries, cooking for him and tidying up his room even without his permission, and to his growing disgruntlement, works quite well in the narrative, as a very rarely depicted issue that this kind of relationships can present. The reverse Oedipus complex approach also works well here. Lastly, the ending of the story, despite being a bit rushed, adds a combination or realism and drama to the narrative, which again, makes the film stand out from the plethora of romantic comedies.

Probably the sole major fault in the narrative seems to derive from the way Liz’s line of work unfolds, which mostly seems as an “excuse” to present something different from the romantic relationship in the movie. Even this fault though, is not so impactful as to ruin the general quality of the film.

Evidently, Alonso leaned heavily on her protagonists and they responded in at least adequate fashion. Mylene Dizon is excellent as the middle-aged woman who gets swept up by love and tries to adapt to all these new elements in her life. The same applies to Kit Thompson as Josh, with his more immature approach to their relationship being presented quite well, although his acting is a bit “stiff” at times. The chemistry of the two is one of the best assets of the film, with each actor completing the other, while the equally impressive appearance both have adds much to the elements of sensualism that appear quite frequently in the film, through a number of subtle erotic scenes.

Mycko David’s cinematography complements the almost idyllic aesthetics of the film nicely, while a number of images, particularly the ones in the beach and a couple of night ones, will definitely stay on mind. Marya Ignacio’s editing induces the film with an also fitting mid-tempo that allows the story to unfold without any particular unnecessary elements. The ending may feel a bit rushed compared to the pace of the rest of the movie, but not to a point that becomes bothersome or annoying.

“Belle Douleur”, evidently, is not a piece of “high art”, but is beautiful, sincere, funny and entertaining, and in my book, these are enough elements for a movie to be enjoyed.

My name is Panos Kotzathanasis and I am Greek. Being a fan of Asian cinema and especially of Chinese kung fu and Japanese samurai movies since I was a little kid, I cultivated that love during my adolescence, to extend to the whole of SE Asia. Starting from my own blog in Greek, I then moved on to write for some of the major publications in Greece, and in a number of websites dealing with (Asian) cinema, such as Taste of Cinema, Hancinema, EasternKicks, Chinese Policy Institute, and of course, Asian Movie Pulse. in which I still continue to contribute. In the beginning of 2017, I launched my own website, Asian Film Vault, which I merged in 2018 with Asian Movie Pulse, creating the most complete website about the Asian movie industry, as it deals with almost every country from East and South Asia, and definitely all genres. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter.