Full disclosure: this is me thinking out loud. If you don’t want to hear a fellow Indio blabber for a minute or two, I suggest you click out of this post.

I have only worked at the new Jerrold Tarog film, Bliss, during its tedious pre-production, and although very briefly, during the production itself. When you become involved with a film project even to the short extent that I did, when you see every bolt and nut so meticulously placed, and when you read the screenplay over and over, you begin to see the nuances of the story the filmmakers are trying to tell. You become impressed. You fall in love. You feel proud.

The way I see it, Bliss is not an adult film. It might take some maturity to fully appreciate it, but it does not, in any way, deserve the X-Rating that it received.

Jerrold Tarog's New Film 'Bliss' Receives An X-Rating From MTRCB
Iza Calzado, Ian Veneracion, and TJ Trinidad star in Jerrold Tarog’s new psychological thriller, ‘Bliss

To those uninitiated, the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) gave Bliss an X-Rating, which means that the film will be restricted from playing in local theaters and airing on television. The film has been “deemed unfit for exhibition …supposedly for scenes featuring prolonged frontal nudity, excessive violence, and masturbation.”

That ring a bell? Well, it should.

Just this month, a similar thing happened to Petersen Vargas’ first film, 2 Cool 2 Be 4Gotten, a coming-of-age drama that got slapped with an R-18 rating, ultimately hurting ticket sales and audience reach. Never mind the truths the work echoes; as long as it has a suggestive (that’s the keyword here, not explicit) masturbation scene, it deserves an R-18 rating. Because the film’s story ultimately (spoiler!) ends in matricide, it automatically has “no redeeming social value”.

Although there is bias when I speak of MTRCB possibly being unjust—the films I’ve mentioned are made by people I know and like—it is valid to inquire when a board’s basis of restricting a film from playing in theaters are nudity and violence. If this was the case, rating might as well be arbitrary. If violence was an issue, why the R-16 for Logan? If nudity was an issue, why the same rating for Trance four years ago?

This doesn’t end in local films. Foreign films also get questionable ratings. Ghost in the Shell, a film that features a number of dismemberments, is Rated PG. Meanwhile, Chips, a slapstick that often features a scene with two grown men awkwardly rubbing each other’s private parts, is Rated R-16. This was even described as, I quote, “penis anxiety”, as spotted by film critic Philbert Dy on one of the rating cards posted at the cinema. Phil is doing God’s work.

Make no mistake: I understand where MTRCB is coming from. They are paid to make firmer decisions, be more keen, and give ironclad ratings. What’s scary is that the current board, at least in my opinion, might be mixing guiding Filipino audiences on which films are suitable for younger viewers with censoring films as a whole. I don’t want to think that they are taking films away from us, but that’s what it feels.

Bliss’ unjust X-Rating raises in me a couple of questions: 1.) Are we keeping our people from watching our own films on might-as-well arbitrary factors such as nudity and violence? I say arbitrary because there are films far more explicit than Bliss and 2 Cool 2 Be 4Gotten. And what did we do about those? 2.) Do we really think that Filipinos are not intelligent and morally intact enough so as to be phased by a dark, but truthful film, not knowing the lines between reality and fiction?

Bliss has put out a statement regarding the issue via their Facebook page: “We understand and respect the decision of the MTRCB reviewing committee regarding the film Bliss. We are currently going through the process of submitting an appeal for a second review and hope for a more favorable result.”

Bliss is hoping for a release on May 10th, 2017, as do I. Check out the trailer below:

UPDATE: Bliss is holding a free screening event this Monday, April 3rd, at the U.P. Cine Adarna. It’s free to the public on a first come, first serve basis. Registration starts at 5:00PM, the screening at 6:30PM.

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