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Chai Fonacier on 'Nocebo' and the impact of traditional folk healing, representing Filipinos on the big screen

By AYIE LICSI Published Jan 13, 2023 8:27 pm

Filipinos—Filipina women, specifically—are ruling the silver screen internationally. In the past year, Dolly De Leon gave a Golden Globes-worthy performance in Triangle of Sadness, and now, Chai Fonacier is set to make waves in Nocebo.

Nocebo is a critically-acclaimed suspense thriller coming to theaters on January 18. It tells the story of a fashion designer (Eva Green) suffering from a mysterious illness that doctors can't seem to figure out, to the frustration of her husband (Mark Strong). Help finally arrives when Diana (played by Fonacier), a Filipino carer, uses traditional folk healing to reveal a horrifying truth.

Growing up in the Philippines, Fonacier is all-too-familiar with the albularyo, folk healing methods, and superstitions, which she said are all "part of who we are as a people."

"We have all these practices and pamahiin, it’s very ingrained in all of us, regardless of whether we believe it or not," she told PhilSTAR L!fe. "Our ancestors who highly believed in all of this, whether it was to explain phenomena or probably really know beyond what’s out there."

"I think there’s really no harm in believing in all of this stuff. I appreciate that it’s very much part of our traditions. It’s part of who we are as a people."

Filipina on the big screen

Fonacier's impressive film credits include Patay na si Hesus, which she won Best Supporting Actress for in the 35th Luna Awards, Asuang, Sakaling Maging Tayo, and Born Beautiful. She's also part of the Maria Clara at Ibarra cast as Lucia.

The actress was invited to audition for Nocebo by producer Bianca Balbuena—she hadn't yet imagined the scale of the film she's starring in.

"It was actually strange and surreal because when I was auditioning for this, I did not realize how big it was. It didn’t actually sink in very much until I saw the entire film. Iba yung experience babasahin mo siya on paper and then you see it come alive on screen," Fonacier said. "There’s a part of me until now that all of this is still not sinking in."

Representation had also been part of the discussion as she starred in the Filipino-Irish thriller. Fonacier is part of the film's top billing alongside Eva Green and Mark Strong, who have been in movies like Casino Royale and The Imitation Game, respectively. 

But what Fonacier found most empowering was she was playing female folk healer Diana.

"Historically, yung mga babaylan natin mostly babae—kung lalaki man, kailangan magdamit ng babae. Just the very feminine aspect of this character was empowering to me," the actress shared.

"I remember talking to a friend of mine about this role, we did mention '[Accessing] your inner babaylan!'"

Nocebo hits theaters on Jan. 18.