Society has put mistresses in a box labeled "hot, hot hot! Do not touch." They're the evil ones who break up homes and send wives and children a-packing and a-weeping till kingdom come.
And now that Star Cinema has come up with an Olivia Lamasan film capitalizing on this so-called dregs of society, you are forced to take a second, even third look at mistresses. "The Mistress" forces you to hold your judgment before looking the other way.
At first, Sari (Bea Alonzo) doesn't look like your typical kept woman. She resists JD Torres' (John Lloyd Cruz) advances at the bookstore. She is a doting granddaughter (to Anita Linda) and an older sister. She works in a tailoring shop. In other words, Sari doesn't have the haughty, expensive ways typical of mistresses.
But she keeps a dark secret. She disappears, even from her family, every Thursday, her "rest day" from the tailoring shop. Sari goes to a well-appointed house where she morphs into a bejeweled woman of the world in the arms of her very much senior benefactor (played by Ronaldo Valdez).
How can a seemingly good girl go wrong? Sari may not look like your catty, devil-may-care mistress, but she is, like them, driven by debt — to a loved one she can't turn her back on at her moment of greatest need.
And so she has this weekly ritual that drives Mrs. Torres (Hilda Koronel) up the wall. It is the same ritual that forces her to check emotions that send red flag signals in her mind.
Ladies torn between responsibility and emotion know the agony Sari is going through. Her tears, no-you-don't look and outright rejection of JD's advances turn her into a mistress you can feel for. She's a thinking, sympathetic kept woman who knows she has to pay the price of a long-standing debt, even if it means sacrificing her own happiness.
But even the hardest of rocks melt under constant pressure. Sari's turning point comes in the middle of the film. The proverbial dam breaks as white lanterns released in the sky somewhere in the middle of film illumine the screen.
It's a joyful moment. But it exacts a heavy price.
The philandering husband, his wife, their son and the mistress above all, are not spared.
"The Mistress" may be a serious film, but it can make moviegoers break into smiles with snippets of humor.
The ever-reliable Anita Linda as a senile retired teacher does this in her own charming way. She has the audience in the palm of her hand. One particularly amusing moment sees her rattling off instructions in a fun math contest between Sari and JD in the former's modest home.
The scene is the calm before the storm, a breather before emotions descend pell-mell on the characters.
To say that John Lloyd, Bea, Ronaldo and Hilda performed well is an understatement. You sense the tightness in their chest and feel their every tear every time they figure in confrontation and other scenes.
Yet they don't gobble each other up in any single scene. Each has his or her own moment.
And oh yes, you want to reach out to Sari, who winds up with the biggest questions (the viewer decides; Lamasan will not spoon feed the ending to you).
As the closing credits roll, you look within and ask: Is the mistress friend or foe?
The film doesn't glorify her. It just looks at the mistress through tender eyes. You may not agree with it. But you will surely hate her less, at least in the two hours you're in the movie house.
It's a suspension of disbelief that will amaze even the most rabid mistress hater.