Saturday, February 10, 2018

Review of MEET ME IN ST. GALLEN: Three Tries

February 9, 2018

Spring Productions founded by actor Piolo Pascual had its first feature film back in 2009 with "Kimmy Dora: Kambal sa Kiyeme" (Joyce Bernal). Last year 2017 was a big year for them as they released three films -- "Northern Lights" (Dondon Santos), "Last Night" (Joyce Bernal) and most memorably "Kita Kita" (Sigrid Andrea Bernardo), which went on to become the highest grossing Filipino indie film. 

"Meet Me in St. Gallen," written and directed by Irene Villamor, is Spring's first film out this new year. It is practically a two-hander about a couple of millennials, Celeste Francisco (played by Bela Padilla) and Jesse Abaya (played by Carlo Aquino). Their story actually only happens in three days, but these three days are spread out in the course of six years. 

Day 1, Celeste and Jesse meet for the first time in a coffee shop one stormy night. graphic artist Celeste just had an argument with her demanding boss. Medicine student Jesse just got a dressing down from his parents (cameos by Noni Buencamino and Lilet Esteban) for choosing his rock band over taking his studies seriously. They talk about destiny, compromise and sacrifice. They mutually decide to end the night with kiss and that was it.

Day 2 happens four years later when Celeste and Jesse ran into each other in another coffee shop. She was now an emerging multi-media artist who just debuted her first public art exhibit. He had shifted the focus of his medical studies from humans to animals (I know who owns that pet shop for real.). They talk about their dreams, solitude and loneliness. The night ended a major leap further than how it ended before, but again, that's it. 

Day 3 happens two more years later. It was a cold and snowy Christmas Day, and Celeste is now based in St. Gallen in Switzerland (a curious choice of location!). Suddenly, Jesse shows up without any prior warning to surprise her. Will they hit it off great again in their conversations and end another major leap further than their last night together?

At first glance, the script of writer and director Irene Villamor seemed to be just a series of random thoughts and topics with no clear direction where these conversations were leading to. However, looking back after the ending, they actually did. She only gave us three days to know these two characters, with no clarity of why no one thought of following up in between those fateful meetings. But in the end, it turned out to be enough after all. 

Bela Padilla is such an honest actress. It never seemed like she was ever acting. Everything was so natural and free-flowing with her. Carlo Aquino had always been a very sensitive actor since we knew him as a child. Because of their absorbing screen presence and charisma as a couple, we actually hang on to every word they were saying to each other, long and winding as they were. We wanted them to end up together.

"Meet Me in St. Gallen" is like the whole "Before" trilogy by Richard Linklater condensed into one film, where each episode is one day.  It follows pretty much the current trend of local indie romance films which use the conversations between two people to show the development of their relationship. The result can only be two ways -- happy or sad -- and that is for the audience to find out by hanging on to the very end. But by and large, its success clearly hung on the relatability of its script and the sincerity of its actors -- and this one had both winning ingredients. 8/10. 

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