‘Meet Me in St. Gallen’ has taken Philippine cinema’s trend of very verbose, very conversational films about love and mastered the craft to deliver a wonderfully performed story of chance encounters, missed opportunities, and the importance of timing in any sort of relationship.
Written and directed by Irene Emma Villamor, ‘Meet Me in St. Gallen” happens in three particular days in the span of six years in the lives Bela Padilla’s Celeste, an artist, and Carlo Aquino’s Jesse, a singer whose father wants him to be a doctor. The film masterfully details their chemistry in these fateful moments when they come across each other’s path but the character, as written, lack the conviction to sustain this moment further than what they have been presented.
On screen, it’s a captivating exchange of ideas, the camera pans to and from between characters, capturing their reactions to each other’s prodding, constantly teasing the what ifs from the electricity that is so evident between them. From Pao Orendain’s cinematography to Emerzon Tecson’s music to Carlo Francisco Manatad’s editing, each scene is almost devoid of plot and is solely focused on two people recognizing kindred souls in the other.
While the filmmaking in itself is pitch perfect -- every individual part works magnificently with all the other elements -- the carefully laid out fiction is exactly that. It is a fiction that clings on to you as you leave the cinema. For something so real and believable, there is a neatness to the story that undermines the film’s magic. Little things, like how they remember every little detail of their previous conversation despite it having been years since they last saw each other. Every detail is committed to memory and that rings just a bit false.
At the same time, as enjoyable as the journey to the film’s conclusion is, the destination feels a little muddled. After everything is said and done, what is the film really trying to say to us? Without spoiling the ending, it celebrates the magic of the meet-cute and pokes holes at every person who has ever hesitated at a decision so major. But by doing so, the film also sorts of pokes hole in itself. The point I am hoping to make will be made clear when you see the film.
Because you have to see the film. Despite my misgivings, ‘Meet Me in St. Gallen’ is a joy to watch. Bela Padilla is unafraid and very committed to her character and her character’s shifts and evolution through time. Carlo Aquino acts with every inch of his body, every movement betraying his character’s inner world. One will even notice how he tenses his hands or arms, or how his posture would change when Celeste and Jesse find themselves at a painful crossroad, which they do several times in the film. It’s excellent work, which we’ve come to know from Aquino.
And while I may be gripping at the film’s overall message, the script is a magnificent display of restraint and precision. The slew of ‘talky’ love films have given us a lot of movies with overwritten dialogue. But Villamor’s characters talk like people do and it comes off very naturally, until you realise that they are hitting important story beats and character insights and right before it draws out too long, it ends and moves to the next scene. I don’t remember enjoying dialogue that much in a Filipino movie about love since ‘That Thing Called Tadhana.’
Great acting, great dialogue, great cinematography and music, and stellar performances make ‘Meet Me in St. Gallen’ a wonderful, sobering film to watch--a notch above the rest of this trend of verbose films.