Movie Review: Etiquette for Mistresses

Backed by a nuanced script and good performances, Etiquette for Mistresses is a decent mainstream film that offers a compelling story with an honest social commentary about gender, politics, and adultery.

After leaving her life in Cebu to follow her heart, Ina gets thrown into a world of civil adultery as she gets trained to become a mistress. As she finally founds out what its really like to be one, she must decide whether her feelings for a married politician is worth the life of a kept woman.

The recent influx of movies about adultery filled local cinemas with cheap drama used to create a spectator sport, wherein women are pitted against each other.

Etiquette for Mistresses is none of that.

The script is able to deliver an engaging plot because it has a realistic approach to civil adultery. The perks and consequences are handled with equal measure. Mistresses enjoy a luxurious lifestyle because of their influential, powerful and/or rich lovers, but this also traps them in a world of obscurity.

The characters are not pegged into stereotypical roles. The movie focuses on five women who are fully aware of what they’re doing and the life they have chosen. Ina gets schooled on the Etiquette of Mistresses by Georgia who lives by tried and tested arcane rules, while her impulsive friend Chloe pushes the new girl to demand more.

The cast made a commendable risk in taking these roles, especially when a number of Filipinos complained about “kabit” movies in the cinema. The older actresses did a good job but Kim Chiu takes the spotlight with an earnest performance.

There are deft directorial choices here as seen in the camera blocking. Along with the production design, the movie is able to depict the world of loneliness and emotional exile. In one long take, Georgia and Chloe argue in the dark. No matter who is right, they’re still be both trapped in their own bubble of enforced secrecy.

All of this makes for compelling stuff that is also a mature social commentary on gender, politics, and infidelity.

The movie doesn’t treat its characters as cheap whores or homewreckers with Twitter-worthy one liners and  doesn’t glorify them either. In one scene, Chloe is not solely blamed by the wife of a philandering husband. The sad truth is, no matter who is legal or not, they are both deemed replaceable. While Chloe and her friends like to believe that they belong in a secret world, they are merely invisible not unknown.

The movie also reflects the double standard of infidelity that is entrenched in the Philippine culture. In one line, Georgia summarizes the hypocrisy of legislators who are against divorce and the RH bill while making no effort to reform the penal code revisions on adultery, which allows married men to freely cheat on their wives and sire illegitimate children as long as they keep it hidden. It is worth noting that Stella Garcia’s story, which the movie focuses on towards the end, resembles the Grace Ibuna controversy.

This is where the movie sags under the weight of mainstream expectations. Filipino blockbuster movies, who are aware of the target audience’s needs for escapism because its not really fun in the Philippines, are prone to wishful-thinking cliches. Etiquette for Mistresses undoes what it has achieved in the third act as the characters resort to aiding and abetting a crime to stage a happy-ending. It’s pretty obvious that the cameos were personal choices as the two of the most handsome actors in the nation make an appearance.

Still, Etiquette for Mistresses is worth considering because it delivers narrative depth rarely seen in Filipino mainstream movies. Production studios recycle telenovela tropes and inject it into the mutation of whatever is the box office hit last year. As a result, you have a vacuous cinema industry.

Etiquette for Mistresses proves to be a silver lining as it tackles the reality of adultery through its story and characterization, even if falls apart in the end. In a country where married women are told to tolerate their philandering husband as long as he provides for the family, this is an important issue to address as even the law discriminates against legal wives. The movie tastefully tackles the other side of the story and provides useful lessons from women whose shelf life depends on the whims of a married man – define yourself, be practical and leave when you must.

My Rating: 7/10

Image capture from trailer.

  • Reviewed this as a stand alone film instead of an adaptation.

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