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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.

Aug 18, 2019


WE SAW THE “Just a Stranger” at its press preview at Gateway and the best thing about is that the two star-crossed leads, Anne Curtis and Marco Gumabao, both give erotic, breathtaking performances in a tempestuous love affair that you somehow know will be doomed. Their mere presence light up the screen, especially when they are featured in various states of deshabille.

Trust writer-director Jason Paul Laxamana when it comes to giving us very fluid storytelling, from their first meeting on a deserted beach in Lisbon, Portugal (where they think their short-lived affair will start and end) to the time they surprisingly bump into each other again by chance in the Old Railway Station in San Fernando City in Pampanga that has been turned into a museum. It is from where Jason Paul hails and he features it abundantly in the movie, including its famous lanterns.

Anne plays Mae, the bored trophy wife of an older businessman, Edu Manzano as Phil. She’s on vacation in Lisbon with her friends but she decides not to join them in their city tour and goes by her lonesome to the beach where she meets Marco as Jericho, the listless son of the Philippine ambassador in Portugal. The idle banter that starts their meeting is beautifully written and Marco offers to act as Anne’s personal tour guide. It ends with them spending the night together.

When they meet again in San Fernando, it’s Anne who initiates the resumption of their interrupted rendezvous and, as may be expected, they get to develop much deeper feelings for one another. Then Edu learns about their affair because Anne is calling Marco’s name during her drunken stupor.

Where the story goes from here is something we won’t spoil for you. But of all the unconventional May-December love stories shown lately like “Glorious”, “Belle Douleur” and “Malamaya”, this one has the most ill-fated conclusion. We won’t tell you if we agree or not with the writer-director’s chosen ending for his tale which seems to stress that life can be so ephemeral. Suffice it to say that we now know why it was not accepted as part of the coming Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino.

Jason Paul is known for his unhappy, inconclusive endings in past films like “100 Tula Para kay Stella”, “Day After Valentine” and “Between Maybes”, but this one is the most bitter and heartbreaking of all as he chooses to tread a very dark road.

Although we wish it had an alternative ending, there’s no discounting the fact that the movie is handsomely mounted, particularly the beautiful scenes shot on location in Lisbon, the stunning capital city of Portugal which is one of the oldest cities in the world. Also well photographed are the scenes taken in Pampanga.

Anne Curtis gives one of her most touching performances as Mae. She’s better here than all the movies she did last year, especially towards the end where she delivers a long emotional aria in defense of Jericho. Never mind if it turns out to be just a figment of her imagination.

We just can’t believe it when she says that Marco as Jericho is half her age. He’s supposed to be 19 years old here, so that means her Mae is 38 years old, but on screen, she doesn’t really look that much older than him as she really registers as so hot and sensuous.

The last scene is truly heart rending when someone asks her how she is related to Marco and she delivers the film’s title. It reminds you that the course of love can run beyond our control and just might leave worse off than when you started. You’d really wonder if Mae, after all the pain, would still be able to find new love and real happiness in her life.

Marco succeeds as being the latest eye candy on screen and the camera loves him from any angle, but he aso gives a heartwarming, passionate performance in his first lead role as Jericho, the young man who feels he’s overly controlled by his domineering parents and even by his girlfriend, Febbie (newcomer Jas Hollingsworth).

He’s tired of it all and it’s only with Anne that he can break free from his desperation and speak about his true feelings. He is of true leading man quality and we’re really wondering why ABS-CBN let him go (he’s now a Viva contract star) when he looks (and acts) even better than some of their current lead actors.