MOVIE REVIEW: 100 Tula para kay Stella (2017) [2 of 2]

Never seek to tell thy love, 
Love that never told can be; 
For the gentle wind does move 
Silently, invisibly.
I told my love, I told my love 
I told her all my heart; 
Trembling, cold, in ghastly fears,
Ah! she doth depart.
Soon as she was gone from me, 
A traveller came by; 
Silently, invisibly, 

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 Fidel is withdrawn, shy and awkward, perhaps as a result of his fears of being rejected by society because of his disability.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.

 

MOVIE REVIEW: 100 Tula para kay Stella (2017) [1 of 2]

Jason Paul Laxamana’s 100 Tula Para kay Stella offers a pragmatic approach to a tale of unrequited love in an ethereal synthesis of time, poetry and music whilst wrapped in the grounded, hard edges of life’s reality.

The film starts with the introduction of the typical nerdy, stuttering wallflower Fidel (JC Santos) and the typical rebellious, full-of-angst rock chick Stella (Bela Padilla). For more than 1/4 of the film, these two lead characters showed nothing but typical facade after facade, and their one-dimensional characterizations didn’t seem to be enough for the audience to fully invest and understand who these human beings are, and why they make the decisions they make. Aside from Stella offering her jacket to cover up Fidel’s stained pants, and Fidel offering Stella a Sunday night of tutoring session for their midterms, what else do these characters have to offer other than the obvious? Who are they? It was a challenge that a movie-goer needs to surpass, until the second act happened — everything made sense from there on out.

The second act begins to show the film’s layers, and what its major theme is: growth within time. The growth of the characters was an immense pleasure to see as they slowly shed their veneers, as if truly getting to know a couple of people without their feet forward or having their best smiles fronting their shiny white teeth. Fully realizing these characters truly for their vulnerability and weakness, as slowly the film establishes the backstories of both Fidel and Stella, will have you invested as to what will happen next. How the characters evolved gave a metaphorical manifestation in Fidel’s written poems through a timelapse of psychological progressive expansion. From being way too conscious in his poem 1, by not knowing the right words to say, what metaphors rhyme to one another, and a couple of erasures here and there, up to poem 100, where it just took a couple of words for him to say what his heart really felt for Stella. The journey to maturity in his poems beautifully reflected the journey to maturity in his life, and it felt raw and heartfelt. As if Fidel was the book of 100 poems; he completed himself during those years, gave everything he got, grown and matured, nurtured himself with inspiration, with the hopes of being enough for the love of his life.

The art direction played a huge part of capturing the psyche of the film’s characters. Act one was a glittery, rock and roll montage of music and Fidel’s too-good-to-be-true poems, which reflected their juvenile personalities, indecisive of what to do, and naive to the world’s reality. Then, a shift to the second act, where it wasn’t as colorful as it used to be — the use of gritty textures and a more somber mood to the scenes, atmospheric to the mentality of both characters, as they learn about life’s more-often-than-not harsh ordeals, and not every dream is served in a silver platter.

Can we talk about Bela Padilla and JC Santos’ riveting and grounded performances? I didn’t see the actors; I saw the characters that were brought to life, in every angle and in every nuance. As if for two hours, two different lives were presented in front of me — no vanity, no holds barred — they gave what the tone of the film needed at the right place, and at the right time. The best film casting in Philippine cinema to date, perhaps since John Lloyd Cruz and Bea Alonzo in One More Chance.

Although the film rises to several occasions and has more than a couple of redeeming factors, it does suffer several bumps here and there, most notably is its inability to sustain subplots after another, which the film is rich in. I could pinpoint several characters coming out of nowhere, acting very significant, but substantially irrelevant to the story itself, and ultimately left hanging without any closures. Moreover, director Laxamana’s political stance to drug vendetta — the scene where Fidel’s professor, played by Ana Abad Santos, breaks down and confesses that her daughter is in rehab for drug use, felt very random and irrelevant both to the story and the character. For a theme as heavy handed as drugs, it didn’t feel smooth for it to be just a casual 3-minute subplot, wherein both the story and the character could survive without.

I also find that the film could have captured the essence of time a little better in terms of the characters’ physicality. Fidel in his freshie days looked exactly the same several years later when he graduated; Bela Padilla wiped off her black lipstick by the second hour — but nothing much to it, really. It felt like it wasn’t enough to throw in pop culture references here and there to give the audience the sense of time. The aesthetics of these time periods could’ve been displayed more elaborately.

Overall, 100 Tula Para kay Stella is unexpected, non-conforming, and as current as today’s millenials, but at the same time speaks to both xennials and gen x’ers, as the classic theme of unrequited love is ultimately timeless. Beautifully shot, powerfully acted and thoughtfully written, this is a film that I would recommend.


4.25 out of 5 stars