For Ehryl (Erich Gonzalez), a young TV soap writer, one of the strange pleasures of her otherwise humdrum daily commute from home to work is the opportunity to glance upon a handsome co-commuter who seems to have only one down side - he is deaf-mute. Lucky for her, because her younger brother is also a deaf-mute, she has become very adept in communicating in sign language. When the opportunity presented itself for her to get to know the guy who she believes is the mysterious man from her recurring dreams, she decides to pretend to be a deaf-mute, in the belief that the innocent deceit would facilitate what she wished was a blossoming relationship.
Mike (Enchong Dee), the commuter who Ehryl believes to be deaf-mute as well as the man in her recurring dream, as it turns out, can both hear and talk normally. He is a teacher in a special school for deaf-mute children. Believing that Ehryl is deaf-mute, he resolves to pretend to be deaf-mute. As their misrepresentations mature to become lies that are too complicated that they can only threaten the feelings that have slowly and surely developed between the two of them, they become entangled in a shared fear of being found out and eventually losing each other.
The love story is so light, it tends to dissipate in the middle of everything that is happening in Richard Legaspi's Paano Ko Sasabihin? (How Do I Tell You?). After all, the love story's conceit - the mismatched deceit that left what should have been a blooming romance in the throngs of uncertainty - feels more like a product of an afterthought than an actual dilemma. Legaspi, probably knowing the slightness of the romance he concocted, provides side-characters and side-stories that while inconsequential enough to be regarded as sources of drama or humor or be ignored completely, are delectable diversions that accentuate the story, creating for the purposes of enlarging the modest love story a setting that houses other tales of unrequited passions.
As a result, Paano Ko Sasabihin? feels more than just the silly romance between Ehryl and Mike. It is also a film about Ehryl's brother whose sincere love poems are unappreciated by the girl he adores. It is also a film about Mike's student who has already lost her sense of hearing and is defenseless to the rapid loss of her sense of sight. It is also a film about the lonely taxi driver who unknowingly bares his secret love to the two passengers he thought could not hear him. As it stands, the film is more painful than it is sweet. It sufficiently basks in both the joys and the necessary pains of falling in love.
Paano Ko Sasabihin? is a pretty, pretty film. Cinematographer Ogi Sugatan bathes the interiors of train stations, train cabins, and other locations with such luscious lighting, converting what essentially are places that have become synonymous with the dehumanized workforce into locations that are potent with romantic possibilities. In fact, the film has made the normally uncomfortable situation of being squeezed in the middle of a cramped and crowded train cabin into a climactic plot point in the romance, with only facial reactions and minute gestures as provisions for subtly heightened drama. While what feels like is an overly zealous editing style mars the narrative with questionable cuts and fades, it nonetheless showcases Legaspi's attempt at telling his story outside the conventions of a restrictively capitalist mainstream, which I don't doubt would be fawning over this little film with its promise of developing a love team for its up-and-coming leads.
That said, Paano Ko Sasabihin? breathes with an understated but earnest understanding of how love can be an illogical obsession, converting full functional adults into victims and victimizers whose only goal is to acquit themselves of the abject loneliness of a guarded work-a-day existence. It neither aspires for an impossible fairy tale ending nor settles for grim realism. It remains floating in mid-air, deliciously satisfied with having relayed the minute delights, the fears, and the pangs of right love imprisoned in wrong circumstances.
Cross-published on Lessons From the School of Inattention.