Wendy Rene got it early. Even as a young daisy in 60’s Memphis, she knew what was up. With youthful fervor and conscious resignation, she sang it for the first time: “After laughter comes tears.” The 1964 track, from which the likes of Wu-Tang-Clan, Freddie & Ernst, and Paramore would draw great inspiration, acknowledged none of the grim traces left by the idealism that may have been once there. In it, Rene sounded less like a disenchanted young soul and more like a player privy to the way the game worked.
The final moments of Joel Ferrer’s new film, Elise, offer us a similar perspective. By the end, Bert, portrayed by Enchong Dee, looks at what he has lost in life and recognizes what they once meant. They stay there, past existence, like faint stains on the wall where beautiful photographs once hung. It’s a lovely sentiment, and indeed its grip roots you to the ground long after the credits roll, but what makes Elise such a great film lies in its ability to take us from “what a harmless rom-com fun” to “this film might actually change me forever” just like *snaps* that.
You can attribute this to a bunch of things, but to this writer, there are three main people to thank. First, there’s Joel Ferrer. It doesn’t take long to get on with his vision, which from where I sit looks like making a film that you can’t quite get but absolutely gets you. For Regal, the film outfit behind Elise, the movie looks rom-com-ish enough, making it easy to greenlight. Lucky that they did.
Of course, the film is much more than a rom-com. Which brings me to Ferrer’s collaborator, Miko Livelo, with whom he co-wrote the film’s screenplay. We open with Dee’s Bert in his trip back to his hometown, where he’s accompanied by a quick-witted young girl named Remy (Miel Espinoza) who asks him to tell her about Elise (Janine Gutierrez), the love of his life. On Bert narrates, his memories of Elisse served as precious little vignettes that take the film into unexpected turns all the while keeping its emotions in full bloom.
Though it likes to take ostensibly unnecessary detours, wherever Elise takes us, there’s heart. One arc branches to another, each tethered to varying degrees of love, from the banal to the most profound. There’s an arc about Bert and Elise’s love for ice cream, and how, at some point, too much of it might be bad. Another one tackles the love for one’s craft. These sharp turns always have their arms extended, bearing a sentiment or two about love as we know it. This quirk makes the film’s structure interesting, and though critics have taken its unconventional structure European-like, I think it resembles a closer neighbor’s work: Juzo Itami’s 1985 gem, Tampopo.
Where that film gleefully toyed with human temptation by refracting our perspective on man’s relationship with food, Elise explores what love means to us, in spite of everything it asks us to give and everything it takes. In between these moments, of course, are funny screwball digressions a la Itami’s training montage in Tampopo. As it happens, this sense of humor is practically imprinted on both Ferrer and Livelo’s DNA. This, alongside Enchong Dee, who in this film brings unwaning charisma and genuinely affecting performance, makes for an engaging watch even after all its indulgences.
Like Tampopo, there’s a tender mentor-mentee dynamic in Elise between Bert and Remy. In a key scene towards the end of the film, Bert finds an opportunity to become what Elise has meant to him. It’s a perfect note to ed such a beautifully realized film.
Elise is a heartwarming love story that becomes ever more beautiful the more it rests in mind.