As her last film screens, Cheriel Gil is fondly remembered

Photographs courtesy of Loy Arcenas Gil as Celine with Ross Pesigan as Jasper.

Born with the name Evangeline Rose Gil Eigenmann, but known to the world simply as Cherie Gil, she was rightfully acclaimed by fans and critics alike as La Primera Contravida — the prime villainess —which speaks about her prowess at eliciting sinister and menacing emotions in characters she portrayed. However, in Elehiya — her final film before she passed on — she plays the protagonist in heartbreaking scenes that deal with uncertainty, loss and grief.

The actress played Dr. Celine Miranda, who is utterly tormented by the unfaithfulness of her late husband, in the film shot in 2018. The situation is made even more conflicting by her unexplainable attraction to his possible illegitimate son.

“In the last two years, politics and death have infected us in ways our nation has come to view life. We’ve had to learn to let go and move on. Dr. Celina Miranda did not,” said director Loy Arcenas.

“Elehiya means ‘elegy’ in Tagalog. The film is an elegy to the tortured path that Dr. Celina Miranda created for herself as it is an elegy to the glorious loves and life of the great actress who made Celina come to life,” the lauded Filipino filmmaker explained.

Celine (Gil) joining the procession of women asking for children.

A true-blooded Cebuano, Arcenas resided in New York for decades, where he learned and lent his expertise as a scenic and set designer for various plays and stage presentations through the years. Today, he is most known for Ang Larawan, a movie adaptation of the 1997 stage play, which in turn was based on the 1950 masterpiece A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino by National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin. The 2017 musical film was screened at the 30th Tokyo International Film Festival and then the 43rd Metro Manila Film Festival, where it won five awards out of 12.

Four years ago during the movie’s shoot, no one knew it was going to be Cherie’s final film. Yet, she kept a professional attitude when it mattered and treated others with kindness.

Photograph courtesy of Loy Arcenas
Celine (Cherie Gil) in a trance.

“I loved working with Cherie. She was an advocate for letting go and moving on. She lived for the moment. Work was all about hard work, but fun would be unbridled fun,” Arcenas recalled. “The art of theatre stayed in rehearsal rooms and on stage. But it was friendship and fun with the cast and crew after rehearsals.”

Photograph courtesy of Nes Jardin
Director Loy Arcenas.

This was not their first collaboration. The duo has been colleagues in several productions in the past. “I fondly remember our rehearsals for Arbol de Fuego, an adaptation of The Cherry Orchard which we did at PETA (Philippine Educational Theater Association). She played one of Chekov’s most complicated characters on stage, garnering a Gawad Buhay award for Best Actress along the way,” he reminisced.

Elehiya will be screened as part of the Asian New Wave Section of the QCinema International Film Festival, which runs until 26 November. The festival lineup features 58 films, including six shorts and seven full-feature categories.

also in the lineup are the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or awardee Triangle of Sadness by Ruben Östlund, which stars Filipino theater veteran Dolly de Leon, and Venice Film Festival entry To The North by Romanian director Mihai Mincan, which features Filipino actor Soliman Cruz as a seaman.

Arcenas’ final communication with Gil was bittersweet.

“I was in Venice the last time I touched base with her. I had decided to send her clips of me wandering in a quiet Venice that was just beginning a typical workday, not a Venice for tourists, but the unaffected Venice that she loved and cherished,” he recounted. “She had spent years being a housewife and mother and bringing up her children in that particular corner of Italy. And I knew she had a wide grin on her face when she wrote back ‘Sama ako!’”

No messages came after that. Perhaps through Elehiya, Gil and Arcenas can have one final reunion before she truly bids goodbye to the physical world.

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