MOVIE REVIEW: Meet Me in St. Gallen (2018)

Stripped down of unnecessary subplots, Irene Villamor’s Meet Me in St. Gallen trusts its audience to fill-in the gaps (sometimes to a fault) and is anchored by natural acting, profound direction and a consistently improving cinematography.

Meet Me in St. Gallen is a story of kindred souls meeting at three different points in their lives. A problematic self-acclaimed rockstar Jesse (Carlo Aquino) overhears burnt-out graphic artist Celeste (Bella Padilla) finally standing up against her exploitative boss. With Jesse’s parents constantly berating him for his life choices, he quickly empathizes on her situation and decides to follow her to a coffee shop.

In hindsight, the initial meet-cute that transpires may not be so serendipitous after all as the film kicks off by romanticizing stalking behavior (a problem shared with Sigrid Andrea Bernardo’s romantic comedy film Kita Kita) but nevertheless, the ensuing flirtations and ramblings over coffee (and later booze) prove to be charming. Celeste even points out that their names are lifted from the 2012 romcom Celeste and Jesse Forever, this must be fate, huh? It’s exactly how some people would dream meeting that special someone.

“Sobrang perfect na ng moment na ‘to. ‘Wag nating sirain ‘to.” (Such a perfect moment. Let’s not ruin it.) Celeste says this right after kissing Jesse and before stepping out of his car with no plans of seeing him again in the future. You see the problem here? This is the beginning of a budding love story, an undeniable connection so intense that they have been clearly smitten by each other. And yet in a twist of idealist pseudo-philosophy, they decided not to ruin that exquisite moment and to treasure it forever by NEVER SEEING EACH OTHER AGAIN. I am baffled with the logic behind this situation. Were both of them in a committed relationship at that moment? What’s stopping them from pursuing each other? The lapses in script makes you think that Celeste is playing hard to get all this time. If this is a film that braves about taking chances, we can only expect regrets later on.

And we do see the repercussions of this missed opportunity in their next encounters, all of which happens several years after. With them being already successful in their respective chosen careers, the circumstances are more complex in attempting to foster a relationship founded in the span of one night. This careful dance of hellos-and-goodbyes culminates in the last act which happens in the film’s namesake, St. Gallen, Switzerland.

Let’s put this out of the way, this offbeat romantic drama is obviously inspired and feels like an abridged version of Richard Linklater’s Before series trilogy. While this is not the first time for a Filipino romcom to take that similar path of letting the leads converse their way throughout the entire film (we’ve seen Antoinette Jadaone successfully pull it off in That Thing Called Tadhana), this remains to be a huge gamble to do on a mainstream level.

This format of storytelling puts more value on sharing ideas and expressing feelings through language. Jesse and Celeste’s conversations strike a responsive chord to both heart and mind that you may find yourself remembering real conversations you experienced with more or less the same words. The topics ranges from random (pig orgasms) to superficial (the struggles of being ugly nowadays) and to philosophical (destiny, what-ifs, compromise, solitude, idealism etc.). Admittedly, most of them veers towards hugot-lines, none of which I haven’t heard yet or blew me in a truly thought-provoking manner as I hoped it would be.

The highlight of Irene Villamor’s direction is the film’s one-take love scene. Paired with a beautiful song, this well-earned moment feels patient, guided yet really organic and intimate. Credit is also given to its leads, the actors breathes life into pages of scripted conversation with a casualness that one might think they are improvising. The film indulges in a lot of lingering shots that puts them in a merciless scrutiny but they manage to hold their charisma all throughout. Padilla impresses with her suppressed emotions and Aquino proves he deserves his long-overdue leading man role.

Despite being troubled by a strange decision made by its characters on their first night of encounter, Meet Me in St. Gallen’s three-part act of storytelling is a fresh break from the existing romantic tropes. Stripped down of unnecessary subplots, it trusts its audience to fill-in the gaps (sometimes to a fault) and is anchored by natural acting, profound direction and a consistently improving cinematography without going over sentimental. It certainly warms the heart to see films like this which are more grounded on realism and treats characters as real people and not merely as actors. If this is Pinoy romcom’s path to resistance against formula films, sign me up.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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