Romantic comedies, or romcoms, are a staple of Philippine cinema, because not only does it provide momentary bliss, away from life’s many complexities, but also because it is a highly bankable genre— you either watch it with a date or in groups. With the increasing number of romcoms released every year, there is a tendency that some stories feel similar, with films often resorting to tired tropes and formula. Once in a while, however, a gem gets slipped in, as is the case with this Carlo Aquino-Bela Padilla starrer.
Meet Me in St. Gallen is about a chance encounter, which led to a life-affirming experience for both Celeste (Padilla) and Jesse (Aquino). Before you scream “typical,” the film actually makes this seemingly ordinary, dialogue-heavy encounter unforgettable. The setup is simple, but the things Celeste and Jesse talk about are anything but.
No matter how good the material is, or how beautiful the shots are, when your leads don’t have palpable chemistry onscreen, then a romcom doesn’t simply work. Thankfully, Padilla and Aquino are nail-bitingly electric together, their banter always heartfelt, and involving.
One often flaw in writing is that characters sound alike, but here, Celeste and Jesse could not be more different from each other. As Celeste once put it, Jesse always seems to say the right words, the typical good guy. Meanwhile, Celeste’s character is given a lot of room for wittiness, without calling much attention. The wit comes naturally, thanks to Padilla’s knowing command of her character.
Silence is also a form of dialogue and used effectively, it can heighten tension to unparalleled heights. One of the major reasons Meet Me in St. Gallen is compellingly beautiful is that characters do not resort to screaming matches for hours. For all the words Celeste and Jesse said to each other, there are lots of blanks left to be filled in every passing glance, or knowing stare, or even Carlo Aquino’s glaring but loaded smile in the second act. A crucial scene in the second act that occurs during breakfast is one of the most effective employments of silence: you could cut the tension between Celeste and Jesse with a knife.
The filmmakers are not hiding their adoration for the Rashida Jones-Andy Samberg starrer Celeste and Jesse Forever. Meanwhile, the structure of Meet Me in St. Gallen seems like a condensation of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy. Nevertheless, Irene Villamor only uses them as a springboard, focusing instead on her characters and the decisions they make. After all, it all boils down to decision, what a person decides to do in the face of conflict, and in familiar territories like this film, we follow the characters to discover what decisions they’ll make.
The film acknowledges the fact that relationships are made and broken by timing, which comes to mind Wong Kar-wai’s 2046. In it, Tony Leung’s character Chow muses: “Love is all a matter of timing. It’s no good meeting the right person too soon or too late.” So if two persons who share the same passions and outlook in life meet, but at the wrong time, then chances are they’re shit out of luck.
Where can we get our hands on the film’s original soundtrack ASAP? And we’re not just talking about Moira Dela Torre’s rendition of Johnny Cash’s “You are my Sunshine.” Even the musical score isn’t intrusive, highlighting the mood of the scene instead of exploiting it for cheap emotional payoff. Meanwhile, listen to this beautiful song from Jem Cubil and Andrea Babierra entitled “The Morning After.”
People can usually tell if a material is trying to fool them, or if the characters aren’t being true to themselves. In this film, the characters are so fully-formed that their decisions are guided by their beliefs and emotional growth. The delivery of lines sounds like they came from a very deep and dark place. Despite being a fictional film, we cannot help but be destroyed by the emotional gravity of the characters’ journey. As a character in Blade Runner 2049 once put it, “someone lived these memories.”
All snaps from this trailer:
Have you seen the movie? Tell us what you think of it!