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SANA DATI (2013)

Cinemalaya + Metric Films
AVAILABLE on DVD in local video stores. 
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If Only

By Derek Elley


Maturely written, discreetly played romance with an interesting structure. 




Manila, the present day. Wedding videographer Dennis Cesario (Paulo Avelino), 21, arrives to cover the civil ceremony of Andrea Gonzaga (Lovi Poe) and politician Robert Naval (T.J. Trinidad) being held at a hotel. He seems inexperienced, and a little nervous, and Andrea thinks he looks familiar. Andrea's mother, Vivian (Carla Martinez), is all in a tizzy on this important day for the family, and when Andrea's favourite blue shoes can't be found she sends her younger daughter Jamie (Ria Garcia) back home to get them. Dennis starts filming an interview with Andrea and notes she doesn't sound very enthusiastic about her wedding. It turns out that she and Robert dated only for a month, and she suddenly decided to marry him after coming back from a year away in Bangkok. Dennis next interviews Robert, who says how he became disillusioned with politics when campaigning for a governorship. He also seems nervous about the wedding but, like Andrea, insists he's in love. Meanwhile, at home Jamie accidentally discovers some pictures of Andrea with another man, plus a love letter from him. At the hotel, Andrea finally realises that Dennis is the younger brother of her late, great love, Andrew (Benjamin Alves), also a videographer, whom she met two years ago at a wedding in Alaminos, Pangasinan province, north of Manila, when she was accompanying Robert as a professional PA on his campaign. As the wedding guests all wait upstairs, Andrea goes AWOL with Dennis to the hotel's roof, where everyone's backstories emerge as they talk.




Filipino writer-director Jerrold TAROG, who works both sides of the film-making fence, comes up with his most polished "indie" movie in If Only Sana dati, the last in his loose "camera trilogy" of films linked only by people using photographic equipment. Far less edgy than the previous entries, mockumentary Confessional(2007) and kind-of-horror The Blood Trail Mangatyanan (2009), it's basically a romantic drama that starts with a clever idea — a videographer at a hotel wedding turns out to be the brother of the bride's great love — and fans out into a well-written, discreetly played drama that's both moving and finally very mature in its emotional make-up.


During the opening 40 minutes, the audience is as much held in suspension as the bride-to-be, as the young videographer, who doesn't seem very experienced, nervously starts interviewing her. She doesn't seem very enthused about her marriage to a well-connected politician and, as her mother flits around in a wedding-day tizzy, the groom also seems curiously uneasy. There's a feeling that disaster could be just around the corner, that at any moment the bride could change her mind or the ceremony be derailed for any reason. It's a classic rom-com set-up but here played for light drama, not for romance or comedy. When the bride realises who the videographer actually is, and goes AWOL with him minutes before the ceremony, Tarog skilfully turns the film in another direction, flashing back two years and revealing the full backstories of everyone involved. The complex editing shifts back and forth not only between the past and the present but also within different periods in the past.


It's a tribute to the film, and the involving performances, that none of this seems tricky for its own sake: there's a natural flow to the emotions revealed, and even the ending, which doesn't take the expected course, seems right, in a realistic, practical way. The script by Tarog — written under the pseudonym Ramon Ukit, one of several he also uses for editing and sound design — avoids commercial melodrama and manages to remain light without sacrificing substance.


Best known for her horror movies and rom-coms, lead actress Lovi POE, 24, gives a nicely shaded performance here and builds different chemistries with Paulo AVELINO, as the young videographer, and Benjamin ALVES, as his older brother, as traits in one remind her of the other. Poe previously played opposite Alves in the commercial horror Guni-guni (2012), and has worked several times with Avelino, notably on veteran Joel C. LAMANGAN's recent rom-com The Bride and the Loverand Tarog's horror Aswang (2011). As her character's much older, rather cool groom, T. J. TRINIDAD comes through sympathetically in the later stages, and supporting roles, especially on the female side, are strongly characterised, especiallyRia GARCIA as the bride's spoilt younger sister, Carla MARTINEZ as her panicky mum, and model/TV host Gee CANLAS as her glamourpuss best friend.


Ranging from rich hotel interiors to sunny exteriors in Alaminos, "Home of the 100 Islands", Mackie GALVEZ's photography is always well-lit and composed, and a far cry from his grittier work on Tarog's The Blood Trail. The 100-minute running time passes easily, thanks to the character detail on screen.



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