He took her with a sigh.
— William Blake, “Never Seek to Tell Thy Love” (1863)
100 Tula Para Kay Stella follows the story of Fidel (JC Santos), a college student, who enamored of Stella (Bela Padilla), a fellow Psychology major and an aspiring musician. Impeded by an unspecified speech defect, he sought to express his feelings in juvenile, idealistic quatrains, hoping to complete a hundred of them and even more so in getting the strength to present it to Stella.
Fidel’s secret desire is astronomical, however, like that of a young child wishing to touch (or to be one with) a stars. Fidel is withdrawn, shy and awkward, perhaps as a result of his fears of being rejected by society because of his disability. Stella, on the other hand, has high ambitions; she herself wants to be a (rock) star like Avril Lavigne, and uses every opportunity to get closer to her dreams in order to escape the dreary and lonely life she was living with her sisters since being orphaned by both parents. Yet, despite these differences, Fidel remains faithful to his one love, enduring her every whims and patiently waiting for her (even as Stella sleeps with an ex-boyfriend in order to get connected to his music-video director).
Said to be based on a youthful episode in the life of its director (John Paul Laxamana), 100 Tula is mostly set near Mount Arayat in Pampanga, visible yet distant. And like Mount Arayat, Stella remains an omnipresent character throughout the film: always near (even when you don’t see her), but always far (even when she’s there). We follow the story of Fidel, but really, we see more of Stella in his thoughts and words: the Romantic Ideal which is never fated to be his. Although writing quatrains and verses for a loved one is deeply rooted in Filipino culture (think as early as Francisco Balagtas writing Kay Selya, which was written when he was incarcerated), Fidel fails to make his poetry transcend his basest feelings (if not Neruda, who also wrote 100 Sonnets of Love), partly because he latches onto his limerence and also because he fails to overcome his fears and express himself in more concrete ways than just poetry. (Even Stella herself admitted from the start that she was willing to overlook his stuttering.)
Meanwhile, Fidel stands as a mute (yet unwitting) witness to Stella’s decline, even after helping whether with her academics or with finding a place to stay the night. Externally, Stella tries to project herself as a strong, determined woman. But she also fails to understand that it was here insistent escapism, her persistent desire to chase the limelight, was the one thing hindering her dreams. Beneath her shell, she, too, is unable to express her true feelings with sincerity. She is self-aware of the potency of her beauty, of how her being the object of every men’s desire can also cause their downfall and hers (even the sparse, minimalistic music that is set in most of Stella’s scenes is enchanting, beguiling and terrifying at the same time). And when that one person who sees through her real self—Fidel—reaches out to her, she walks away, afraid of all possibilities (both good and bad) that might have been had she relented and surrendered herself to him.
By the movie’s climax at the other side of Mount Arayat, Fidel and Stella have come to confront each other with a lot of introspection, and even more regrets. JC Santos and Bela Padilla delivers what is probably the movie’s best scene: every word they say to each other is weighed by things left unsaid, things they can only now see clearly because of circumstances they could have prevented or resolved, but didn’t. 100 Tula Para Kay Stella is a wistful tale of an old love, a bittersweet reminder of missed opportunities and might-have-beens.