I never thought that I would be writing about Philippine cinema here. Hell, I never even thought I would be writing about Philippine cinema of my own accord EVER – years of having to analyze movies for class has left me scarred (I thought permanently) by recycled plots and cringe-worthy dialogue.
And yet, here we are.
Here’s the thing – I did not even want to watch this. I heard about it from friends who saw the trailer on television, and didn’t bother to ask what it was about. All I knew was just that the leads of this new flick also did another little movie quite some time back called One More Chance.
Thus, I spent the better part of two weeks thinking it was going to be the classic Pinoy fare of soapy romance, secrets, noble idiocy, and a gun somewhere.
I know, I know – I was being unfair. Even the aforementioned One More Chance had more substance than its immortal one-liner, and I can think of other movies, such as For the First Time (starring KC Concepcion and Richard Gutierrez, back in 2008), that surprised me as well.
But you really can’t put all the blame on me. I mean, come on – The Mistress? I thought it was going to be a rehash of the parade of movies tackling the same theme within recent years. And those movies, sadly, I cannot even remember. Sorry.
(Here’s your friendly neighborhood SPOILER WARNING.)
Anyway, the mistress in, well, The Mistress, is Sari Alfonso (Bea Alonzo), a wardrobe mistress (the female equivalent of master cutter in a tailoring shop, and yes, I see what they did there) who catches the attention of JD Torres (John Lloyd Cruz), an architect. Of course, the married man Sari is carrying on with just so happens to be JD’s father – well, at least in name, as apparently the whole Torres family is chock full of infidelity. Hijinks ensue.
It’s not a perfect movie – I mean, there are some song choices that probably should not have been featured so prominently (okay, ONE song choice. Seriously, though – Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol? I appreciate the effort, and the lyrics actually kind of mirror the situation, but that song has been fully claimed and run to the ground by Grey’s Anatomy around six years ago. It was distracting.), some camera angles that probably need to be reevaluated, some transitions that probably could have been cleaned up a bit better. Some character beats could have been even more grounded by their fundamental motivations, and some scenes were not entirely necessary. But, I must admit – The Mistress surprised me, and that is probably one of the best compliments I can give a movie.
There is this scene where JD lets Sari take his measurements for a suit, and another where Sari practically forces herself on JD. It’s a great testament to both actors (I think Bea Alonzo wins by a hair here, though) how painfully layered their performances are. JD being attracted-angry-confused-hurt-frustrated in the first scene, and Sari being every kind of hurt there can be in the other – it is amazing to watch.
We have gone a long way in terms of setting up a scene as well. The one where JD gets his suit measurements comes right after a string of scenes that have him as perfect – seeing him suddenly simmering with all the emotions I enumerated gets you to sit up and ask yourself, “what did I miss?” After a few more confusing sequences, the film relents, and then flashbacks to the shouting match JD had with his father, where Sari is revealed to be his dad’s mistress. On Sari’s end, the string of scenes relating to her Thursdays – her going into the house, cooking, cleaning up, dressing in pearls – makes the inevitable meeting with JD’s father even more uncomfortable to watch. The placement of scenes makes everything carry that much more weight, and bring with it a ton more thrill.
I could say quite a bit more, but I must confess that it is not the characters, the plot, or the directorial work that got me sold on this movie. It was the score.
I’ll talk about this particular quirk of mine more when I get the chance, but, needless to say, if a piece of background music catches my attention, it is most likely to be very, very good. I have rarely encountered the use of music to highlight mood in Philippine film before – generally speaking, we use music as space fillers (just so a scene isn’t too quiet or serious) or mood markers (a sad song for the sad bits, and oh-no music for the oh-no moments). Here, a little piano and percussion ditty ebbs and flows through the scenes, not signaling mood but accompanying it. I am not kidding when I say that I stayed five more minutes in the theater to hear more of the melody in the credits.
If The Mistress is the herald for the future for Philippine mainstream film, well then sign me up and get me on board. There are good things coming.
(I think it goes without saying, but just in case: these are opinions. All I want is to agree or agree to disagree. Also, I am not kidding about that score. Does anybody have ideas on how to obtain it? Thanks!)