Subverting The Romance Genre --- The Story Of The Anti-Hero
"Good Morning. My name is Fidel Lansangan..."
A fittingly simple introduction to such an unsophisticatedly written character. Some say the story isn't new, not even unique. In part, I agree but for the better part, I don't.
Before writing this article, I was under the impression that Filipino indie movies aren't interesting anymore. I was honestly disillusioned, thinking that there's no more reason to watch Filipino movies and I'd probably be better off focusing my attention on American or European series or cinema. I'm happy I was wrong.
It's worth noting that all you're about to read are mostly my opinions, now - maybe some portion of it IS biased based on my experiences, but I believe the movie is really just effective in drawing up its characters as blank slates we can all relate to. So without further ado, I'm diving into the story of 100 Tula Para Kay Stella.
The story starts with a stuttering teenager by the name of Fidel - brought to light by his English teacher forcing him to be more confident as he introduces himself with his queue cards. However, he stutters non-stop until the bell rings and their class is ended thus saving him from further humiliation. Believe it or not, this English teacher will be more important toward the end of the movie - something you would not see coming.
Let me tell right off the bat, Fidel for me is really a deuteragonist. You would think he's the main character, but most of his actions are actually responses to the actions of the true main character of the story. Viewing the story in her light makes it more interesting.
As the first act progresses, we see Fidel in one of their school functions. Enter Barrie who bumps into Fidel, dropping his wallet. Fidel, being the gentleman that he is gives it back to Barrie, who immediately assumes Fidel stole it from him. He pushes Fidel away in the first act of conflict in the movie. A regular trope of romance novels, we see the antagonist against our deuteragonist.
In hindsight, Barrie's story seems to have a lot of potential for character development. He is your typical jock and snob, wishing to be famous in spite of what the movie portrays as a general lack of talent, however, you'll find that his personality has more tenacity to it, and at some point, he shows a certain level of embarrassment about his situation. Now I'll stop talking up one of the antagonists of the movie
There are plenty more aspects of these characters that build up as the story progresses but I'll focus on the more important aspects, in particular, our movie's namesake, Stella.
Now this woman is a huge curveball in the story. Part of what made my viewing experience of this movie, unexpectedly pleasant, was how I thought I knew where the movie was going - but halfway through, I found myself being corrected.
Stella, such a name, rooted in Latin and means "Star". There's actually a bit of foreshadowing regarding her name, but we'll get there shortly. At first glance, her character is caring, quirkily inquisitive, and over-all, kind. In fact, this shows, throughout the first act of the movie where she shows compassion for Fidel. She meets Fidel as he was singing Dice and K-9's "Itsumo", a novel song back in the early 2000s. You'll see her kindness in how she cares for him in spite of his stutter, and how she offers her jacket to Fidel to cover up the stain on his pants. She's affectionately named "the girl with the black lipstick".
It's at this point where Fidel started writing his poems for Stella.
Several scenes into the story, we see Stella in a wider light. We see her actions veer toward a darker tone. At one time, Fidel invited her to study at his house and instead of joining Fidel, she chose to be with her ex-boyfriend Barrie - now a member of a male dance group in Manila. Stella's goal in getting back together with Barrie was to get to know people in the entertainment industry as she's trying to be a singer herself.
Around the same time, Stella meets Hunter, a budding director. The story's a bit unclear here as in some cases Hunter is shown to be helpful to Stella, while in others it seems as if he's the bad guy in the love triangle revolving around Fidel, Stella, and himself but a few scenes in - it'd be quite clear that it was Stella who was using Hunter as she did Barrie.
In one scene inside Hunter's car after what seems to be a failed attempt by Hunter to bring Stella in as his talent in their production company, they fought - showing Stella's true intentions with Hunter who left her by the curb, enraged at being used.
As the story progresses, Stella's character becomes more "user-friendly". When her ex-boyfriend proves useless in bringing her fame, she moves away and back to Fidel who tries to reciprocate the care and kindness he received from her all those years ago and slowly falling more and more in love with her.
At this point in the story, you'll notice that Fidel's poems do not reflect who Stella is in real-life anymore. As his love for him cloud his view of this once pleasant dame, her life becomes worse and worse. Estranged from her family, Stella's sister who initially wanted nothing but the best for her now complains as Stella proves more and more how she is unbecoming of the woman that Fidel depicts in his poems.
The girl with the black lipstick is no more.
As you can see, the biggest story arc was Stella's. From a grungy yet genuinely caring provincial girl, Stella turned into a person who would use everybody and everyone to get herself into the entertainment industry. We're not even at the movie's climax yet.
In a motel room that Fidel booked for Stella, in a genuine attempt to help her carry on with her life, Stella seduced Fidel. He, however, did not budge and attempted to reason with her. Fidel was her turning point. He was the guy who would not get used. The man who would prove to be her undoing. From this point on - her story arc starts changing into one of confusion and regret.
Given the chance by Fidel to attend a call back for a singer/performer role that was supposed to be for Fidel, she declined, wanting not to use Fidel's contacts to get into the entertainment industry. Although, you'd be pressed into thinking if it really was her change of heart or genuine jealousy at Fidel's newfound fame as a singer at his university in Manila - a call back to their very first meeting when Fidel's singing caught her attention.
In the next scene, we'd see Stella going back to the province, staying away from Fidel whose love for her just grew more and more. A man, totally out of touch of what's really happening to Stella. A man who would do nothing but show love and affection for her, but is completely ignorant of all the internal issues that changed her.
Under the cover of darkness, in the only moment in the movie we see heavy rains, Stella met another man - one who she completely did not expect would come into her life - and neither did we. Von, a student volunteer at their provincial high school, saw Stella eye to eye. He met her needs by understanding how low she's gotten and accepting her for it. This was the man she would marry. Completely out of the left field.
A few months later, Fidel comes to know of this marriage, totally surprised and distraught. The woman who he spent his entire life showing love, kindness, affection, help, care, and support for chose another man.
In all honesty, this twist completely caught me off guard. I'm used to seeing Filipino movies with happy endings for all its protagonists. This one pulled the rug from under me. It is quite realistic.
In real life, almost everything will go wrong the moment a bad decision was made - this is almost always guaranteed. This was exactly what was portrayed in the movie. I'm not saying that I always want to see bad things happening in Filipino movies, but a few extra "not all's well that end's well" is good too. It grounds us.
This movie definitely grounded me. Helped me realize that the world I'm living in - where it's almost always sunshine and rainbows, is but a figment of my imagination. As Fidel says "Ikaw yung naging mundo ko. Pano na yan? Wala na. Nagunaw na. Paano na ako makakausad nito?"
As Stella leaves him, her story arc complete but oddly has not come full circle, Fidel gets another chance at life. Remember his English teacher? She has a daughter, and as the story draws to a close she completes Fidel's newest poem about starting over...
"Behold, this is a new chapter for someone wiser, and stronger than a pebble. This world he shall conquer."
Rhiz Manalo is the co-partner to CentrAsia Tours a Central Asia Tourism Agency, Co-Founder, and Co-Owner of The White Dog Collective experts in corporate and SMB digitization. He is a seasoned digital marketing expert, an experienced blogger, systems architect, web designer, and a loving father to a beautiful 7-year-old girl whom he misses so much!
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