The Mistress is a saint, but the movie is a tease
EMOTIONAL WEATHER REPORT - Jessica Zafra (The Philippine Star) - September 30, 2012 - 12:00am

The Mistress, a Star Cinema production directed by Olivia Lamasan, dangles many titillating possibilities then leaves moviegoers doing exactly that: dangling.

The title alone is the stuff of Filipino melodramas: Querida! Kabit! Masamang babae! It could only be more Pinoy if it were titled D’Mistress. In the title role is one of the studio’s hottest properties, Bea Alonzo, who up to this point has played mainly good girls. This movie signals her career shift to more “daring” adult roles, declares the PR machinery.

Starring opposite Bea Alonzo is her longtime on-screen partner, John Lloyd Cruz. The pair has headlined some of the biggest blockbusters of the last decade, and their drawing power is such that they don’t even have to pretend to be lovers in real life. None of that cheap emotional blackmail (Nagkagalit sila, nagkabati, galit, bati, repeat) we’ve come to expect from showbiz “love teams” — these are pros, and they happen to be fine actors. A lot is said of their “chemistry.” Oh, please, if an actor is skilled, he can summon up chemistry with a fire hydrant.

I’m assuming that everyone has seen the movie; if you haven’t, there are spoilers ahead, but they’re in the trailer anyway.

In the opening scene the two meet among the shelves at National Book Store. Characters who read! I’m inclined to like this movie. If only the writers had read more books. John Lloyd’s character JD/Eric comes on very strong — if he weren’t cute, he’d just be an ass. Bea’s character Sari/Rosario seems to find him attractive, but she keeps herself tightly reined-in. Because she is… a woman with a secret! (For viewers who haven’t noticed, put the usual overbearing Star Cinema musical score here.) The camera does love these two, and they are extremely likeable — whenever the movie falters that’s just about all that keeps the audience watching.

So JD/Eric — the fact that they go by different names helps the movie skate over some gaping plot holes — tries some repartee that’s apparently worked for him, and Sari/Rosario calmly fends him off with another Star Cinema staple: the quotable line. Sometimes one wonders if they’re really in the movie business or are actually planning a T-shirt shop. She gets away.

As you know, the movie universe has only about a dozen people in it, so they’re fated to keep bumping into each other. It turns out that JD is the architect hired to renovate the tailor’s shop where Sari works as master cutter. Having the character work as a cutter is a brilliant stroke: it gives her a reason to get his measurements. Like I said, this movie is into titillation.


But that’s not all. Sari is also the mistress of the man JD can’t get along with: his father Federico (Ronaldo Valdez), the CEO of a telecommunications company. Who may or may not be his biological father; I suspect that angle was worked in for the benefit of viewers who are uncomfortable about the idea of a woman having sex with both father and son. JD hates his father because he cheats on his mother (Hilda Koronel), to whom he is devoted.

Digression: Ronaldo Valdez and Hilda Koronel are alumni of those fascinating Danny Zialcita adultery melodramas of the 1980s. If The Mistress promises to push the envelope, those movies burned down the post office. And you can’t get more quotable than “Nandiyan ba ang asawa ko na asawa mo na asawa ng buong bayan?” from Nagalit Ang Buwan Sa Haba Ng Gabi. By the way, John Lloyd Cruz bears a noteworthy resemblance to another Zialcita alumnus, Dindo Fernando. End of digression.

Having established that JD detests Dad for having a mistress, JD proceeds to fall in love with said mistress. There’s some Freudian murk in here that the movie is too squeamish to acknowledge. It’s too squeamish to even admit what a mistress is. Instead it gives us a lovely, kind girl who’s devoted to her family, who demands nothing from her much older lover and even refuses to live in the house he bought her.

 I’m not saying that mistresses cannot be lovely, kind girls devoted to their families, etc., but Bea Alonzo’s character is a bleeding martyr. How did this paragon of virtue become someone’s mistress? Because she needed funds for her grandmother’s heart surgery, and then she loved the old guy. She does it out of self-sacrifice and gratitude. Nothing so icky as sex-power-money, even when JD brings it up. Put her on a pedestal and burn some incense; the woman is a saint. Frankly I’d rather hang out with this “fallen woman” than any number of “decent” matrons — I know she won’t badmouth me, plus she can make me a good suit.

So The Mistress is a movie that promises to get down and dirty, then reveals itself as the standard bearer of virtue. It’s compelling in its way, with enough emotional highlights to keep you in your seat for two hours. That’s all we can reasonably expect from commercial filmmaking these days: highlights.

Apart from the actors, the most interesting thing about The Mistress is the way director Lamasan dramatizes its real theme. It is fleshed out literally, in a fantasy wedding sequence that is slightly risible but quite effective: the gulf between what you wish for and what you get. Then again, those of us in the audience know exactly what she means.

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