“Yung iba nadaanan ko lang, yung iba, dumaan sandali,” Shana (Rhian Ramos) remarks, as Lio (JM De Guzman) admires the sea of photographs on her wall. Meeting new people is easy but committing them to memory may prove to be more challenging, especially if they have caused you pain in the past. Such is the dilemma of our protagonist Lio, who struggles with recognizing faces due to a cognitive disorder called face blindness. That is, until he meets and falls in love with Shana, a beautiful free spirit who changes his life. At first glance, the premise seems promising, but despite this, I was expecting to see a conventional love story where romance would be the cure-all for Lio’s face blindness—in short, I was expecting to see a predictable romantic plot. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the film offered something more: a complex and intimate story with surprising depth that never lost its grip on reality despite its unique premise.
We traverse the narrative through Lio’s eyes as we are introduced immediately to the world he lives in: he works as a call center agent at a small organization and comes home to his family, composed of his mother and stubborn younger sister. The cinematography and editing created a somber mood, as if Lio was already used to living in his misery; soon we discover why—he struggles to recognize supposedly familiar faces. Film viewers themselves experience this as the familiar characters that surround Lio’s life sometimes appear as entirely different persons; as a result, Lio is often met with either hostility or ridicule. Thus, we begin to understand his caution when meeting strangers and acquaintances. Things took a turn as soon as he meets Shana. At first glance, she appears to be the stereotypical “manic pixie dream girl”, a free spirit who simply helps Lio come out of his shell with her ebullient personality. But later, we learn that she has a dark past from which she wanted to move on. Somehow, these two lovers found the answer in each other.
But the more they get involved in each other’s world, the more questions arise in Lio’s head. Beyond Shana’s lighthearted demeanor lies a dark past that continues to weigh heavily on her; what Lio failed to realize was that like him, there were some things that she would rather forget. Tension arises once they both notice how different they are: Lio desperately wants to remember, while Shana chooses to forget.
I admire how director Joel Ruiz isn’t afraid of showing the imperfections of a romantic relationship. It isn’t simply about seeing the best in each other, but also learning to live with the fact that the other is not as perfect as you make them out to be. Love is not the perfect solution for everything; it is only when you have learned to dig deeper within yourself that everything will start to make sense.
Lio’s character development feels all too real—instead of confronting his inner demons head on, he chooses to dwell in his misery, feeling that the safest option is to close himself off from others. Sometimes challenges in life push us to retreat within ourselves, taking comfort in the familiar sadness it brings. But it is a fact that challenges in life are in itself opportunities for us to be better, pushing our limits to what we never thought were possible. It only requires us to think ahead and keep moving forward.
Kung Paano Siya Nawala is now streaming on Netflix.