Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Isa Pa, with Feelings

♣♣♣♣/♣♣♣♣♣

Mara (Maine Mendoza) considers herself as the fulfillment of her father’s failed dreams. And so her world almost crumbles when she does not pass the architecture licensure exam the first time around. Having a niece who is deaf, she registers for one-on-one sign language classes in an effort to communicate with her better. There, she meets her teacher who turns out to be Gali (Carlo Aquino), her aloof neighbor who she always thought to be rather standoffish and a snob. Being introduced to a world similar to her own but from a different perspective, she gets to know him better and the two form a bond that is greater than being just friends, but can a relationship really work out for two people who see the world in a different light, or more aptly put, hear it with different beats?

Jesus Christ, give  Aquino an acting award for this film. Guy has been acting since childhood and has had his own accolades but even for someone who has been acting for decades, taking on such a role can be quite a challenge. It’s hard enough to act with words, imagine not having that luxury and having the responsibility of making those emotions transcend the fourth wall without voicing them out loud. It takes a seasoned actor to be able to do that, and he delivers. The emotional punch of that non-verbal confrontation scene at the empty resto towards the end simply wows.

Between him and Mendoza, it is the latter who has something to prove, though. This is not her first feature film, but most of her acting projects have always been dependent on a pre-established love team. In this movie, there are traces of her Dubsmash origins, but presented in such a way that is consistent with what the plot requires. Her drama chops have just enough oomph to keep up with her partner‘s and the acting is natural over all. With more acting opportunities, she can be a legit actress.

The storytelling still follows formula, but perhaps it’s the presentation that deserves all the kudos. The way they make use of different techniques to depict the circumstances based on the perspective of the main character and his aural disability shows how the narrative is well-researched and crafted with a specific audience in mind, may it be the blanks on the subtitles to show lack of proficiency in sign language or using lights to convey rhythm and beat. It’s neither original nor groundbreaking but creative nonetheless, which lends an air of freshness to the execution of the idea.

As for the storyline, it still deals with two different people who try to make a relationship work. The difference is that in the mainstream such lack of similar points of view is usually brought about by tropes like social status or wealth. Here, that difference is more basic, tackling the absence of one of the five fundamental senses, which clearly presents challenges that the film does not shy away from elaborating on. That gives room for more subplots to be told, most of them informative and leading to better understanding.

As an advocacy, the movie goes far with its material, introducing sign language to a wider audience through cinema, something that not a lot of people will go out of their way to get to know or learn. I learned a lot and I was also smiling all the time while watching, maybe because despite the cliche and predictable plot there was an educational experience to be had regarding a minority that exists and whose members navigate the same world we do via different means. Good job, Black Sheep.

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