SANA DATI - Against Romance
By JESSICA ZAFRA
There should be nothing extraordinary about Sana Dati, the Cinemalaya film by Jerrold Tarog. It is not particularly original. It does not reveal big truths or make important statements. No ground-breaking techniques are introduced. Haven’t we seen enough wedding movies to last us a lifetime? The insipid title almost dissuaded us from watching the movie.
How, then, to account for the way we are enthralled for two hours, hanging on to every turn of the tale, and caring so much about a character we also wanted to slap?
The answer is Craft. When the filmmaker’s craft is solid, when the director’s vision is clear, when all elements are united for a single purpose, a movie can destroy you. (Though in this case the director had the advantage of being his own writer, editor, sound designer and musical scorer.)
Moving seamlessly between the recent past and the present, Sana Dati tells the story of Andrea (Lovi Poe), the would-be bride on her wedding day. Andrea is prepared to sacrifice everything for love. In this she is exactly like the heroines of every Tagalog romance we’ve ever seen. The problem is that in following her heart, she also sacrifices the happiness of the people around her, including her ambitious mother (Carla Martinez), her petulant little sister (Ria Garcia), her wealthy fiance Robert (TJ Trinidad), even the wedding emcee John (Nico Antonio in a scene-stealing turn).
Sana Dati quickly emerges as a critique of the most popular genre in local movies: the romantic movie (Comedy or drama, it’s the same banana). Those love-obsessed heroines the audience swoons over: Are they really brave and noble, or are they self-involved, inconsiderate, not to mention rude bitches?
From the start the audience is primed to have its expectations overturned. We know that Andrea is in love with Andrew (Benjamin Alves), but why is she marrying Robert? Clearly the wedding videographer Dennis (Paulo Avelino) has a secret—we see him writing his name on someone else’s business cards—but what does this have to do with Andrea? Will the wedding go on as scheduled? How long will Robert put up with this aggravation? Uncertainty is the primary mood—that Voltaire epigraph is there for a reason.
In fact everything in the movie is there for a reason. In an age of gratuitous (Wala lang) throwaways, Sana Dati is assembled with a geeky attention to detail and connection. Chekhov says if you’re going to show the audience a gun, it had better be fired; one of the pleasures of watching this movie is spotting those “guns” and watching them go off. The ring in the flower vase, the blue shoes, the lines from a poem by “a Mexican poet named Julio Medem” (who does not exist, Julio Medem being a Spanish filmmaker whose movie inspired this one), the supposed death of that poet, the Bangkok rumor and several others—it’s a beautiful display of Chekhovian pyrotechnics.
At one point the videographer tells Andrea a story about their high school physics teacher. While it is charming, its real point is to establish some knowledge of physics so that when a life-defining moment is compared to a singularity (the center of a black hole), we are prepared for it. This movie could well be titled Singularity in the way it merges past, present and future into one decision: Are you going to get married, or what?
Film is a language of its own, and Sana Dati speaks it exquisitely. The cinematography by Mackie Galvez imparts an emotional weight to every scene; the lightest exchange has an undertow of melancholy and doom. Holy crap it’s like being in love: you’re levitating, but you know that any second you’re going to crash and burn. Love is scary, these characters remind us, it’s like the anticipation of death. It is not to be confused with that cheap romantic giddiness (kilig) that popular rom-coms feed the audience.
The editing is razor-sharp, down to the way the song lyrics “Ang paghinga’y nabibitin” (The breath is suspended) are followed by a few seconds of black screen. Terrific performances all around—Lovi Poe is so good she doesn’t even seem to be acting. It’s a testament to Poe’s talent that Andrea comes across as a complete human being even at her most irritating. The supporting players are perfectly cast, from Gee Canlas as Loiza the nutty best friend to Cai Cortez as a bride at an earlier wedding.
The real hero of the film is Robert, the guy who should be the villain. We know he’s not the man Andrea really loves, and she’s marrying him to please her mother. He’s very rich and he once ran for office, so we should be inclined to distrust him. But twenty minutes into the movie he wins us over when he tells the videographer why he quit politics. “Sadly, you can’t be a public servant and a politician at the same time.” This is a pragmatist and a good man, and TJ Trinidad invests him with intelligence and gravitas. In Sana Dati the torchbearer for real love, the adult who stands by his feelings in the face of public humiliation, is the other guy.
The film is so expertly crafted, we are willing to overlook minor gaps in the narrative. Why is the videographer wearing an overly stylish jacket? Considering the status of the participants, why is the wedding so nondescript? (The answer, we suspect, is “budgetary constraints”.) Why is that poem so ugly? Why does someone go off his meds, is it so much trouble to pop them in? Then again the movie could be pointing out that such suicidal romantic gestures are essentially daft. When a movie is going so well, we are prepared to give the filmmaker the benefit of the doubt.
This is the way movies should be done but seldom are. Many filmmakers fancy themselves rebels so they reject the rules and go their own way. Removed from the classic basics, “their own way” usually sucks. How can you think outside the box if you’ve never seen the damn box? Know what you are overthrowing, and then stage your revolution.