Film Review: What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love | Yang Tidak Dibicarakan Ketika Membicarakan Cinta (2013)

As complicated the title of this film is, the simplicity of its narrative is something that I more than appreciate. Through presenting us with a glimpse into the lives of two students at a school for the visually-impaired in Jakarta, director Mouly Surya confronts us with themes that reach beyond conventional ideas often featured coming-of-age romantic movies. 

Admittedly for myself, What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love is a film whose ideas I have not completely grasped, but perhaps this is what makes it all the more fascinating.

Surya’s name might be familiar to film audiences for her latest work, which has been thriving in the film festival circuit since its debut in the 2017 Cannes Director’s Fortnight. Although it was only after I caught Marlina The Murderer in Four Acts at the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) this year that I finally got round to watching this film, my interest in Mouly Surya’s was piqued by the featuring of this film in a special section at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF) this year, which I was unfortunately unable to get tickets for. At that point of time, I had been travelling for more than two months; I was part-proud and part-sentimental to have discovered this film which came to fruition through efforts made so close to home. Furthermore, What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love had a screenplay penned by Surya herself – in this way, one might construe this film worthy of watching for, if nothing else, the raw voice of a contemporary female Indonesian filmmaker.

One of this film’s leads, Diana, can only see things within a few inches of her face. She falls in love with Andhika, a new blind student who accidentally touches her shoulder one day in class. Another lead, Fitri, is completely blind. She respects and consequently falls in love with a spiritual doctor who, in the spirit of dramatic irony we find out way before Fitri, is actually Edo, a deaf punk boy in disguise. With these characters, the title of this film seems almost cruel –  if Fitri talks Edo would not be able to hear, and while Diana and Andhika can talk to each other they will never be able to see each other’s faces properly.

Seemingly, as it stands, film audiences are mostly part of a privileged lot. Surya certainly makes us realise this; yet she also makes an interesting decision to juxtapose scenes of Diana and Fitri trying to reach out to their partners through other senses against dream sequences of a “what-if”. What if Diana, Fitri, Andhika and Edo had perfectly functioning senses? Surya shatters our hopes for a pure and perfect world by showing that utterances such as a “wish to be deaf and mute” – as spoken by a what-if Edo with perfect senses in his desire to shut out his wife’s words – in fact make our world the cruel one to live in. Instead of finding ways to break down barriers, we yearn to isolate ourselves instead.

Perhaps it is only through our own flaws that we learn to put our faith in others, and perhaps communication barriers are more self-imposed than anything else. As clichéd and blindly optimistic the idea of love without boundaries might sound, What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love expresses this idea in a grounded way with a tinge of magical realism that I gladly took in to muse over.

- Kathy Poh
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