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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Feb 22, 2018

Meet Me In St. Gallen Movie Review: Well Acted Hugot Romance About A Masochistic Couple Who'd Rather Wallow In Heartache Than Pursue Their Love For Each Other

PIOLO PASCUAL’S Spring Films seems to be on a winning streak. Their offering last year, “Kita Kita”, is a certified blockbuster (and even won best picture recently) and their release for this year is also doing well at the tills, “Meet Me in St. Gallen”. To think that the three other people involved in “Kita Kita” had not so successful follow up projects: Empoy Marquez in “The Barker”, Alex de Rossi in “12” and writer-director Sigrid Andrea Bernardo in “Mr. and Mrs. Cruz”.

“Meet Me in St. Gallen” was extended in theaters due to good word of mouth endorsement from satisfied viewers and we’re told that on Valentine’s day in its second week, its earnings are even higher than the two other local films that just opened on that day. It’s said to have earned P60 million so far, which is not bad at all.

Written and directed by Irene Villamor of “Camp Sawi”, the film is another one of those talky so called “hugot” romances where the two lead characters are just shown talking and conversing and yakking with each other. The story happens in a span of six years and shows the three different encounters of the leads, both strangers in the night, during that time.

The first time they met one rainy night at Centris on Quezon Avenue, Carlo Aquino as Jesse is being forced by his dad to pursue medicine but his heart is in music and singing. Bela Padilla as Celeste is a headstrong young woman who works as a graphic artist and Carlo hears her resigning from her office job while they’re in the Centris open restrooms which are conducive to eavesdropping as you can really hear people from other toilets talking.

Carlo is visibly impressed by the way that the smart and spunky Bela talked to her demanding boss on the phone. He waits to strike a conversation with her. But he’s obviously shy and intimidated and it’s even Bela who started their interaction by asking if he’s a stalker when they’re in a coffee shop. This starts their long conversation into the night and they talk about all sorts of topics, including Facebook, solitude, loneliness, regrets, making compromises in life and, of course, love that’s determined by destiny. They also go to a sing-along bar and the night ends with them kissing, but without any concrete promise of meeting again.

Irene admits her movie is inspired by Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise/Sunset” series and throughout all the interactions of the two leads, there’s always this not so secret wish in the mind of the viewer that they will eventually have their own happy ending as lovers, since fate seems always try to make them cross each other’s path all the time.

Their second chance meeting is in another coffee shop after four years. Carlo is now a veterinarian while Bela has become a multi-media artist who just had her first art exhibit. Their interrupted romance seems to have been rekindled. Bela admits she’s been stalking Carlo on social media for the past four years.

Carlo reveals he is already engaged with a girl named Diane (played by Angelica Panganiban, shown only in photos.) They go to a bar then Carlo has to go to his clinic to look after a sick dog. Then they go to Bela’s place, spend the night together, still no commitment with each other, but Bela ends up crying by herself when he leaves.

Their third meeting is two years later on Christmas Day and culminates in St. Gallen, a snow-covered Christmas village in Switzerland where Bela is currently based. Carlo pops up to surprise her. Their story seems to be headed for a happy ending. Suffice it to say, though, that just like “12” and “Mr. and Mrs. Cruz”, the ending is not your usual and expected crowdpleaser. Tipong nagpapa-bittersweet.

As the movie goes on, we somehow felt that it is not really going anywhere and all the talking will not lead to anything satisfying. This is one film where there are no villains, no big conflict that the leads have to surmount together. Their problem is their inner selves. Honestly, we don’t get it, we don’t understand they won’t make a commitment when they both profess to have feelings for each other.

It’s very clear that they feel love for one another and there’s no clear hindrance for them to pursue their love affair. So what’s stopping them from having a happier ending? Doesn’t make much sense, does it? They actually both come out more as masochists who love wallowing in self-inflicted heartaches with their personal vow of being unhappy forever. Or maybe they’re just following what writer-director Irene Villamor dictates in her script rather than the truthful dictates of their own hearts. Very early in the film, Bela says they remind her of the movie, “Celeste and Jesse Forever”, a low-budget 2012 romcom with unknown stars and Bela recalls that the two leads there didn’t end up with each other, so maybe they’re just following suit.

Obviously, Direk Irene just prefers angst-filled and painful relationships over more successful ones. What helps in making the film tolerable are the two leads who are both splendid in their respective roles. Carlo is a child actor who has won several awards. He was not successful in his teen years but now, as he gains more maturity in his 30s, he not only registers better on screen but shows a clear maturity in his acting skills that will put other current matinee idols to shame. We’re glad to learn that the movie opened new doors for him and he’s now getting offers left and right.

As for Bela, she has gained more confidence before the camera that was not there during her early days in TV soaps. She has exhibited fine, sensitive emoting playing the title role in “100 Tula Para Kay Stella” and she now caps this with a very relaxed but sincere and perfectly nuanced portrayal of Celeste in “St. Gallen”. She and Carlo are both committed to their roles and have a pretty engaging chemistry as a couple. We can really relate to them and the characters they portray. And they both deliver their long lines with much conviction.