Today, my Dad’s film Seduction is out on theaters. For obvious reasons, I cannot review this film. It would just be unethical. Even if I didn’t like it. And trust me, there are films that my Dad has done that I don’t particularly like. I am not a bumbling idiot who loves everything my Dad has directed; blinded by filial obligation and adoration.
My father has trained me in his aesthetics, that’s for sure. I learned to watch and to love film through his eyes. He taught me the power of visual poetry; the magic of story-telling, how the sequences of scenes push plot and character and develop the narrative structure; and how all the elements, combined with each other, create a message. More than that, he has taught me that the film is the message. the medium is the message, as they say. I always have trouble trying to explain it, but I think I understand it. How the film presents the meaning is part of the message.
My Dad hasn’t done a commercial, mainstream film in over a decade. Has done two independent films in that time but not a major studio production like Seduction and last night, I saw it, and I loved it.
Are you allowed to be proud of your own father’s work? Something about that statement seems, I don’t know, wrong. But I am. I am very, very proud of my father. This film is electric. And more importantly, setting aside the gripping sensuality, the movie is grounded in strong and deep emotions and the rooted in the exploration of one’s humanity.
Seduction is a powerful triptych of three broken people who are motivated by their search for happiness, peace, and safety and how their worlds are turned upside-down by their collision with each other. Ram is a down-on-his-luck fireman, beset with financial troubles, whose father is dying and in need of an expensive kidney transplant. Trina is a reserved young woman, well-off, but cautious and guarded because of a painful past. Sophia is a mysterious and wealthy French-Filipina visiting the country with the hopes of reconnecting to her Filipino roots and trying to find a measure of wholeness.
When the three characters meet, sparks fly, and they find themselves unwittingly seduced by each other’s beauty, pain, and hope.
Beautiful cinematography frames each shot by Director of Photography Mark Gary. Every scene is dynamic and rich. But as complex and detailed each scene appears visually, the focus is never taken away from the characters who fill each moment with their hearts. Not distracting from the unfolding drama, what it does is create a lush backdrop for the narrative to unfold.
And the characters truly come alive. Richard Gutierrez plays Ram. No, let me rephrase that, he is Ram. This is not the Richard Gutierrez that I’ve seen in his teleseryes like Mulawin or Captain Barbell. This is a real person who is breathing and feeling the pain and the joy deeply. In my opinion, this is Richard Gutierrez at his most charming, at his most provocative. Without the expediency required from television acting (in the Philippines), Richard Gutierrez’s Ram processes his situation in real time, going through the emotion on-screen and in an organic way. This is not the Richard Gutierrez that the country has seen before: a teen star, or a matinee idol. This is a serious actor, with great heart, and artistry. He’s electrifying.
I have always been in love with Solenn Heussaff. I had had the greatest pleasure of meeting her a few years ago and I have always been charmed by her wonderful personality. She’s down-to-earth and completely un-self-conscious in her being that it makes her even more luminescent. Yes, I’m a fan. So this can be taken with a grain of salt. In Sosy Problems, she was charming and personable and accessible, despite the exaggerated fantasy of the film’s tone. But in Seduction, she is magnetic. She fills Sophia with so many layers and reveals them bit by bit and with inflections in her delivery of the lines and in how unafraid she is to take on the complexity of her character. Solenn Heussaff’s Sophia can easily fall into the realm of a stereotype but instead, she is a fully realised person. As much as she is a seductive force, we see her seduced as well, in the process, creating a dynamic that makes her sympathetic as much as she can be all-consuming.
Sarah Lahbati plays Trina and while I’ve seen her in magazine articles, I’ve never seen her act before. I was scared, coming into this film, that I would be in Solenn’s side the whole time. How could Sarah Lahbati even come close to Solenn Heussaff as a seductive force? But I was wrong, and I underestimated my own father’s ability to bring out the best in his actors. Sarah Lahbati is mesmerizing. Again, as one of the two apparent forces seducing Ram, Trina could have been a stereotypical damsel in distress, but instead Sarah Lahbati roots her pain through strength. Trina is a guarded young woman scarred by her past but she does not play her broken and needy. Instead, she is an active force and plays off the magnificent performances of Richard Gutierrez and Solenn Heussaff with equal fervour and dynamism that she holds her own and commands her space in the film.
I am most impressed with the first meeting of Ram and Trina, as they share a cab during a rainy evening. The scene is extremely super-charged and explosive, even though both characters are fully clothed and testing each other’s boundaries. At this point in the film, very early on, you already see the chemistry exploding off of the screen.
My biggest complaint is that the film is so full and the story is quite tight that I feel that it could have extended just a bit more than its 110 minute screen time. I wanted more. I wanted more breath in-between the scenes, to expand the moments just a little bit more so that we can truly see each character come more alive. In efforts to keep the film within a manageable length, we lose out on some breathing space. It is relentless. The narrative keeps hitting at you, again and again, mercilessly and draws you deeper and deeper into this story without time to catch your breath. At least it isn’t dragging, but I want a little more quiet moments. But that is a small caveat, and I understand why it had to be as it was.
Of course, take this with a grain of salt. I am the director’s son. But my Dad’s work speaks for itself. This is not your run-of-the-mill Filipino film that follows the standard formula. This is a story about desire, and in the process of finding that which they want, the characters discover what it is they need. Some characters find their way, others lose it, succumbing to the seduction of their passion.
That’s it, really; it is in accepting our passion that we find our way. Without passion, we will not find our way. But too much of it, will consume us, and again we won’t find our way.
Goodness! I’m so proud of my father. He’s back. Peque Gallaga is back. And he’s in fine, fine form.