At a boarding school for the visually impaired somewhere in Jakarta, we take a closer look at the lives of two of its teenage students, Diana and Fitri. Well-dressed, rather demure Diana has a crush on one of her schoolmates, Andika, who is never seen without his sunglasses. She both lights up and shies away from him, at one time she purposefully wears a perfume she knows he likes to get his attention. Diana’s roommate, Fitri, is quite the opposite of her. Fitri already has a boyfriend, an older, seemingly harmless man who sometimes visits her at the school and is clearly smitten by her looks. They often hang out in the school area to eat food served by an older lady who also lives at the school along with her adopted son, Edo. Edo dresses like a street bum, a punk kid with multiple piercings on his ears and one on his lip. Despite his rock and roll attire, Edo is actually hearing impaired. Having watched Fitri day-in, day-out, Edo is attracted to her and, using her innocence, sweeps her off her feet into a passionate love affair.
What They Don’t Talk About When Talking About Love, or Don’t Talk Love in short, is director Mouly Surya’s second feature film. Her debut film, Fiksi, was released back in 2008 and garnered more than a few critical acclaims. Although Fiksi deals in the suspense genre, Don’t Talk Love steers away from that. It is a slow-paced film heavy with visual and aural elements, the latter especially prominent with frequent uses of musical numbers, a lot of times sung or hummed by the characters themselves. With its dialogue kept to a minimum, the film succeeds in engaging us through other mediums, no small thanks to the actors’ performances. Although the main characters are portrayed by professional actors, they never get to the point of overdoing their portrayals of people with disabilities.
Diana, a shy girl who comes from a privileged background, is played by 22 year-old Karina Salim. Despite her real age, everything about her suits the character perfectly—someone who is raised to be a ‘proper’ girl, taking care of her looks, brushing her hair a hundred times every night, an adolescent waiting for her time to blossom. Fitri, played by 23 year-old Ayushita Nugraha, is somewhat wilder, more adventurous. However, in spite of her boldness, she is just as innocent as Diana is, if not more. Her naivety makes her gullible, which leads her to be taken advantage of by the two men in her life, her initial boyfriend and later on, Edo. Nicholas Saputra has gone far from being a teenage heartthrob (albeit still looking very much like a heartthrob in real life), doing films that circuit around international film festivals rather than those screened in local cinemas, and this time he shows his quality again, as a somewhat rapacious young man venting his lust on a naïve girl. Well, at least in the beginning.
Mouly Surya feels “discouraged seeing films pitying the people with disabilities,” which drives her to make this film. It shows how these people with disabilities are as human as we are, looking for the same things we look for, with dreams and fantasies not unlike our own. Although the film might seem like an innocent love story, it doesn’t shy away from reality and is not exactly that innocent, which can make some scenes feel crude at times, but overall Don’ Talk Love is an engaging, incredibly poetic work, with a memorable cinematography (the shots involving a pool are some of my favorites) that deserves to be seen and remembered. It is the first Indonesian film to play (and compete) at the Sundance Film Festival and how appropriate that was. Here’s hoping that Indonesia will be able to birth more filmmakers like Surya in the future.