‘Meet Me in St. Gallen’ Deconstructs the Allure of a Fond Memory
Romance doesn’t have to last to be beautiful in this unusual romantic film
Meet Me in St. Gallen is split up into three parts. Celeste (Bela Padilla) and Jesse (Carlo Aquino) first meet on a night when both of them are at a pretty low point. Celeste just quit her job, and Jesse bombed at a gig for his band. The two hit it off pretty quickly, but they part with the promise that they would keep their encounter perfect by not getting in touch with each other. They run into each other again years later, their one night together clearly having had a profound effect on the two of them.
It’s probably best not to talk about the third part, though this isn’t really the kind of movie that can get spoiled. Its pleasures don’t come from plot developments or surprises. It hinges instead on the appeal of watching two people who like each other play out the dance of romance, with all of its melancholy implications. The movie explores the tempting allure of the past, telling its story through thoroughly imperfect people burdened with the memory of a perfect moment in time.
There isn’t really much more to this film than three extended conversations between two people at different points in their lives. The entire story is predicated on a strange choice made on the first night, when both are at their lowest, looking for a measure of magic in their terribly dreary mundane existence consisting at that point of horrible bosses and equally horrible parents. The film then turns their initial reunion into an unusual escape from the choices that they made since they last met. The two are at different points in their lives, the night affecting them in starkly different ways. And in that difference, the film quietly lays down the brickwork for its denouement.
It’s really clever, though probably not satisfying in the ways that people are used to. This film isn’t about the rush of a reunion, though that’s kind of there as well. But it’s really about what happens next, with the two having built lives separate from each other, even as the memory of their perfect moment hangs over them. These are characters are constantly conflicted, driven by an ache for the other, but held back by the reality of who they’ve already become. It’s dramatically dynamic, the film deconstructing the appeal of that initial magical chance meeting, turning into something more than just romantic fodder.
The structure works against the film at times, and the characters can be a little grating at points, but the film always hits it when it counts. The writing grows the characters, making them distinct people at different points in time. The performances help a lot with this as well. Carlo Aquino has long been due to be made a leading man, and he doesn’t waste his opportunity here. And Bela Padilla brings compelling realness to her character. She is the one playing up the conflict most of the time, with the clash between romance and reality constantly playing out on her face. And it works pretty well.
Meet Me in St. Gallen mainly feels like a story about growing up, about letting reality intrude into the romantic fantasies we’ve built for ourselves. It tells a story that acknowledges the mistakes that the characters make, and it lets them deal with the consequences in terribly compelling ways, all while still recognizing the odd beauty of their imperfection. The film doesn’t always work: there are bits that feel a little extraneous, and the characters’ navel-gazing can feel excessive at times. But overall, this is a thoroughly mature romantic film that seems to have special insight to what romance is in the real world. It’s a bit of magic that doesn’t have to last to be beautiful.
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.