by Kirby Plando (Class 2020)
Director: Irene Emma Villamor
In Lee Toland Krieger’s Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012), the titular leads are best friends who fell in love with each other and eventually got married, only for them to get a divorce years later due to irreconcilable differences. They then make a strange agreement to keep on being best friends even after the breakup, further complicating each other’s lives as they move on to each pursue a future of their own.
In Irene Villamor’s latest film, the leads are Celeste Francisco and Jesse Abaya: Celeste and Jesse. They meet serendipitously after having very rough evenings, eventually growing comfortable with each other as they escape reality and revel in the bliss that each other’s company brings. Before the night ends, they make a strange agreement to keep their chance meeting a one time thing, ignoring the prospect of a relationship blooming between them. They move on with their lives, but years later they meet once again, still holding on to the feelings they had on that one perfect night.
It’s an interesting contrast, the former having their leads caught up in a connection between them that they can no longer have, while the latter having the two make the conscious decision of letting theirs pass by. They acknowledge that although Celeste and Jesse may not last forever, the memories of that one flawless encounter will, and that they’re better off that way. This first comes off as a rather mature decision, but their characters eventually realize that similar to their namesakes, they will have to deal with consequences of their own.
In the context of Filipino romance, Meet Me in St. Gallen is a pretty unique film. It builds its story simply from the choices made and the corresponding repercussions. It’s a romance film that denies its characters a full romance, instead focusing on the pleasure of moments: simply flirting with the possibility of love while choosing not to embrace it. The film is basically three long sequences of the characters talking with each other, with all the plot points arising from the conversation. The screenplay, by Villamor herself, is well-written enough for us to be caught up in the interaction, just as the two characters obviously are.
It carefully builds these memories to latch on to, beautiful enough for the leads to actually make an effort to let things stay that way. Allowing reality to settle in will only tarnish these picture-perfect moments, so letting go in its own peculiar way makes sense. It’s a convincing case for their maturity, even as it hints of a fear of committing to the eventual imperfection to come down the line. However, the realization soon comes that just because we are brave enough to deny ourselves a chance at that one great love doesn’t mean that we are ready for the burden that comes with this decision. Regrets will always be there, and though the film has its moments of sweetness, the melancholy it drenches itself in especially in those final scenes is what will outright move audiences the most.
Probably my only gripe with the film is how it handles the passage of time. It’s the type of story that can only be told using time jumps, but it’s just something that I’m not particularly a fan of because it lends a disjointed feel to the story’s development. Thankfully, everything else about it is quite lovely, from how the scenes of Manila alleyways and the gorgeous snowy landscapes of St. Gallen are shot, to Moira dela Torre’s rendition of Johnny Cash’s You Are My Sunshine. Bela Padilla and Carlo Aquino also have a really solid dynamic here as Celeste and Jesse. Both are really charming, nail a lot of the humor and emotion, and add the necessary heft to their characters’ intersecting journeys in the film.
Overall, Meet Me in St. Gallen gives its own poignant take on “The One That Got Away” scenario. It’s all very affecting, how we often give into the enchantment of seemingly perfect moments with seemingly perfect people, even as life moves forward. It reminds us that even as fantasies may be tempting, in the end its grounding it in reality that will leave us the most fulfilled, and the missed opportunity to do so leaving us in quiet lamentation. Though it all could’ve used a little more time to fully develop, the film paints a beautiful portrait: that of the allure and dangers of falling in love with the idealizations that come with reminiscence.