The lack of opening credits in a film used to bother me because I liked to know who I was going to see. Now, I realize that the absence of opening credits opens the mind. You watch the film without expectations and you are able to appreciate it for itself alone.
Watching Sana Dati (If Only) was like that. I knew nothing about it except that it is a love story and that Nico Antonio (who was also in Babagwa) plays the role of a gay. No one looked familiar although the young woman who plays the lead looked like someone I had seen before. She reminded me of Bond Girl Talisa Soto and, strangely enough, the young daughter of a fellow blogger. Maybe, it’s the thick, dark, wavy hair and the glowing copper skin. I would learn later that her name is Lovi Poe. I know the name, of course, but I’ve never connected the name with a face before. What can I say? I don’t follow local showbiz news.
Sana Dati is a love story. Bittersweet, sometimes melancholy, and brutally honest. It questions the traditional notion that people marry because of how they feel about each other, muses if the ceremony itself is more of a compliance with customs and family expectations, just as it probes whether the decision to marry is borne out of an emotional certainty, a longing for security or an intent to possess.
It is the wedding day of Andrea and Robert. The videographer arrives at the venue and sets up an “interview” with Andrea, reality-TV style. Meanwhile, Andrea’s younger sister, Jamie, is sent home to fetch the pair of shoes that Andrea intends to wear to the ceremony.
Andrea doesn’t look nor sound too thrilled about the marriage. She appears listless as though she just wants to get the wedding over with. As the interview progresses, she notices the videographer’s camera and finds it strangely familiar.
The story is told in a non-linear format. Scenes go back and forth between the wedding day and several periods from the past two years. We learn that prior to accepting Robert’s proposal, Andrea loved another, lost him and she herself felt lost for a long time. I wish that I can write more about the story but I don’t want to post spoilers. I’ve been told that Sana Dati will have its regular run (after the Cinemalaya festival) beginning September 25 and, if you’re going to see it, I don’t want to take the fun away by telling you what happens and how the story ends.
There are other things about Sana Dati that I can tell you though without spoiling it for you.
Sana Dati has marvellous cinematography. Many of the flashback scenes were taken with wide shots, the lovers amid splendid sceneries that make their romance look so dreamy and colorful and magical. Meanwhile, the scenes depicting the wedding look drab in comparison. Even the hotel function room, the venue of the civil wedding ceremony and the reception, looks lifeless. Brown table clothes, the lack of flowers save for the singular sparse vase on each table, and the lifeless, colorless guests.
The visual technique is so subtle that it’s easy to miss. But it tells us a glaring truth that we probably know already but often refuse to admit — that we tend to look at happy memories more favorably than our present circumstances. We like to think that the past is more enchanted and that nothing will ever compare to it.
The subtlety is a recurring technique in the film. The humor is subtle. In one scene, the gay wedding coordinator is practicing his welcome speech and keeps repeating the word “ceremony” to remember that it is pronounced CERemony and not ceREmony — accent on the first and not the second syllable. Yet, when he finally delivers his line on the podium, he still says ceREmony.
The social commentary is subtle and sparse. The groom, Robert, a former governor, refuses to run for another term because he has learned, the painful way, that “Sadly, you can’t be a public servant and politician at the same time.” Subtle little touches that leave a lasting impression.
And then there’s Lovi Poe. What a revelation this young woman is. She can act. She totally gets her character — damaged, unsure and resigned. You get the feeling that she isn’t performing but actually living out scenes from her life.
Finally, there’s the symbolism. At the beginning of the movie, there’s all the hullaballoo about the blue shoebox that got left back home. In a way, it’s almost as if the film starts and ends with that shoe box and the pair of shoes inside it. What happens to the blue shoes beautifully ties up the loose ends as the film ends triumphantly.