Philippine Film: Dinig Sana Kita Review

I got to catch the 3pm screening of  Dinig Sana Kita (If I Knew What You Said) on Monday August 31st at the Robinson’s Galeria, and when I stepped out of the theater still a bit misty-eyed at the story, I caught Mike Sandejas (Writer, Director and Producer) just at the foot of the escalator. I went up to him immediately, and told  him outright, “I’m so touched. Surprisingly, I’m touched.”

Now, Mike Sandejas and I are no strangers, and are very close, considering that (1) we’re groupmates and batchmates in Upsilon Sigma Phi; and (2) we both have a passion for film-making. And while we both may not see eye-to-eye in our creative pursuits of film (of course everyone has their own stories to tell and a different way of telling it), I couldn’t help but feel that he did well with this movie. He was ambitious, and he made it happen. And I was touched, and still am touched! I didn’t have that many nice things to say about his first movie, but Dinig Sana Kita, – I only have positive superlatives.

The basic story-line is about Kiko (played by Romalito Mallari), who is a hearing-impaired boy that loves to dance and teaches sign language to deaf children; and about Nina (played by Zoe Sandejas), who is a rocker girl that feels a disconnection from her parents, and cosnistently gets herself into trouble.

Facing expulsion from school, Nina is then required to attend a camp in Baguio where hearing and hearing-impaired kids interact in various developmental activities. There Nina meets Kiko, and the rest is the story of how their relationship grows, the dramas that ensue, and the love that transcends despite their obvious difference of communication.

Is it a love story? Well, it has that angle, but it isn’t a cheesy romance flick with all the pitfalls of your standard showbiz love team make-up. In fact, it lacks a kissing scene, but I’m pretty sure direk Mike Sandejas may have had some difficulty incorporating that into the script, considering Zoe is his daughter.

What’s really remarkable about the film is the manner in which Mike Sandjas tackles the world of the hearing-impaired. In fact, Dinig Sana Kita is the first movie to ever make use of a deaf person in a lead role.

Romalito Mallari engages the part of the deaf boy and really rocks it. Of course, it helps that he is also hearing-impaired, but even then, his expressive ways of communicating – the funny, the dramatic, the angry – all come alive through his sign language and his very expressive eyes.

Equally impressive is the angsty performance of Zoe Sandejas, which is quite a shocker for me, who has seen her grown up to become the young lady she is. (I’ve known here since birth.) Her teen angst is not the typical screaming brat of Philippine cinema, who usually breaks off into an uber-melodramatic spiel that goes something like, “AYOKO NA SA IYO! DI MO AKO NAINTINDIHAN!” Actually, Zoe does well in subduing the emotions of her character, and the depth of her own silence comes across much stronger than the hysterical teens Philippine showbiz has gotten us used to.

Romalito Mallari and Zoe Sandejas in Dinig Sana Kita

Romalito Mallari and Zoe Sandejas in Dinig Sana Kita (If I Knew What You Said)

It’s the careful treatment between the sensitivity of these characters that Mike Sandejas brings out so well. It leaves a lot for the audience to understand all that is not being said, and it does so  in a movie where deafness and silence is the theme. That kinda puts the bow on the ribbon in capturing the true element.

In fact, a lot of praise has to go into the handling of the hearing-impaired dialogues and quirks, and the look into the world of the hearing-impaired from a different angle, from a different perspective. I was expecting it to be a bit preachy, and maybe come out that the hearing-impaired will certainly be misunderstood, but I was surpirsed that it didn’t. The story flowed naturally, and it was up to you to really try to catch up with what was going on – even at parts when there weren’t subtitles – because you were taking in Nina’s POV, and if she couldn’t understand it, then neither could you. That was nice treatment that way.

Then, there’s the part where Nina suffers a near deafness, or an aching in her ear that has a distorted sound. The audience is made to feel her deafness, or the little of what she could hear. Of course, not that the style hasn’t been done before, but it’s just masterful how all of that are woven well together in the story.

Anyway, as I write this, there will be one day of screening left in the Robinson’s Galeria with showings at 1pm, 3pm, 5pm, 7pm and 9pm. After that, there is still no word on where else it will show around Manila. Maybe the next chance to catch Dinig Sana Kita, will be at Brussels or Toronto and whatever other film festivals it’s been entered in. There are a couple of them, and Mike Sandejas is just happy that his movie will have the opportunity to be seen in other venues. Whether it wins or not, well… Of course, it’ll be great to win.

Incidentally, Dinig Sana Kita won the People’s Choice Awards in the recent Cinemalaya 2009. I didn’t get to watch the other films, so I can’t give a comparison about who really deserved what award, but despite the awards and accolades, I sincerely believe that Dinig Sana Kita is a movie that is well put together.

I think the fact that Mike Sandejas involved close friends and family – Zoe Sandejas (his daughter) in the lead role; Nina Sandejas (his sister) and Francisbrew Reyes (his future brother-in-law) wrote the wonderful music; May Genato-Sandejas (his wife)  is the line producer;  – and then the rest – well it gives the movie and the production a healthy kind of wholeness. When you have that kind of cooperation with loved ones who share your passion, it certainly makes it easy to put things in their place.

Great movie, Mike! Great performance Zoe! Great job, Rome!

PS – I love the club scene with DJ Roberto “Danger” Sanchez behind the deejay booth. Although the sound is not his regular house signature, it’s nice to find him in the movie looking cool as always.

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