MOVIEGOER: Chai Fonacier acts up a tsunami beside Eva Green in ‘Nocebo’

Published January 19, 2023, 9:56 AM

by Nestor Cuartero

Chai Fonacier (Facebook)

Always a pleasure and source of pride to hear of Filipino actors crashing into the international film scene.

Close on the heels of Dolly de Leon’s critically acclaimed performance in Triangle of Sadness comes Chai Fonacier’s equally stirring act in “Nocebo,” Lorcan Finnegan’s dark and disturbing tale of conflict between old and new, modern and traditional, if also pagan.

Nocebo opens on Jan. 18.

Chai plays one of three leads in the silently terrifying horror-drama that calls attention to Philippine folk medicine and practices. She acts up a quiet tsunami side by side Eva Green and Mark Strong, and often, in several instances, according to a review by Simon Abrams on roger, “unveils a measured performance that is well-realized and deeply felt.”

Nocebo tells the story of a forward-moving, ready-to-wear fashion designer (Green) suddenly suffering from a mysterious illness (brain fog, disconnection, unexplained rashes, nerve pain, etc.) that confounds her doctors and frustrates her husband (Strong). Enters this mysterious helper-nanny (Fonacier) from nowhere and everywhere who brings to the Irish city traditional folk healing methods, short of voodoo and witchcraft, from the Philippine countryside to reveal a horrifying truth.

Nanny keeps telling her mistress: “You have to trust me. Something is hidden inside of you, Christine, something you hide from yourself.”

Mysterious Nanny-Faith Healer then casts a spell on hapless little mistress of the house and her unhappy schoolgirl daughter.


Moments before a media preview in Mandaluyong Jan. 11 at Shangri-La Mall, Chai Fonacier recalled how at times, she would get lost while doing a scene with her foreign co-actors. Cast and crew filmed in Ireland for five weeks, plus one more week in the Philippines.

“Their presence was simply mesmerizing, especially that of Eva’s, yet she was so nice and helpful,” she said. Thank God, Chai, who’s Cebuana, is not your usual uneducated actress clueless about what’s going on in the world. She is oozing with self-confidence and basic intelligence as she talks about issues confronting proper treatment of actors, wages, the industry as a whole. Exposure to filming on foreign sets has made her realize we need to change our mindset about how movies and TV shows are made here. She believes reforms have to be institutionalized in terms of work hours, an issue that’s as old as the fast-diminishing hills of Montalban. Abroad, she observed that staff and crew get overtime pay when work exceeds the customary 10 hours per day. Everyone is also allowed time to get a full-night rest. Chai has also just finished another international film called Franklin, a series of short stories shot in Malaysia. She is proud of her current series, GMA’s Maria Clara at Ibarra, where she plays an add-on character, Lucia, a rebel.

On Dolly de Leon’s non-win at the 2022 Golden Globe Awards, Chai says winning an award is not the end-all and be-all of an acting career.

“We Filipinos are just too happy to be able to contribute to the telling of powerful stories worldwide.”