Carlo Aquino plays Gali, a deaf man who becomes a reluctant dance partner for his neighbor Mara, played by Maine Mendoza, in ‘Isa Pa with Feelings.’
Renzo Navarro
Maine Mendoza and Carlo Aquino: More Than Words
Gabbie Tatad (The Philippine Star) - October 19, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — This opening weekend has been flooded with rave reviews for Prime Cruz’s Isa Pa With Feelings, a Black Sheep-produced romantic film starring Maine Mendoza and Carlo Aquino. For those who haven’t seen the trailer, it is jam-packed with many a lingering gaze from Aquino’s Gali which would honestly make any grown man or woman swoon. Mendoza’s Mara is equally endearing, and while it seems like it’s going to be just another cute love story (with a hot little dance number), the trailer caps off with the fact that Gali is actually deaf.

There is a general danger with telling love stories, in that the world is already so full of them—some morose, some hopeful, many relatable, and the more we tell, the more they run the risk of becoming pretentious. This is an age where many lead with the new spin and use it as an anchor to entice audiences into believing that this film that will be different. It is an attempt at authenticity that can often leave a bad taste in one’s mouth. But by burying the lede so early in the game, Isa Pa With Feelings sets itself apart, being openly confident in its own portrayal of love whatever the variables may be.

Behind the romance

It’s also difficult to talk about the story at hand without talking about the personas behind the characters. Aquino says that the making of the film presented an entirely different set of challenges for him. He says that prior to shooting, he was nervous about ruffling some feathers when it came to Mendoza’s fan base, which is staunchly loyal to her pairing with Alden Richards. “Pero hindi naman pinaramdam ni Maine na kailangan kong kabahan o kaya may kailangan akong patunayan, basta magkkwento lang kami, kaya naging kumportable rin ako,” says Aquino. Which then opens up the idea that there are probably no two better people to discuss the impact of words with than Mendoza, whose extremely passionate fan base includes 3.3 million followers on Instagram, and Aquino, who’s been subject to tabloid fodder since his early career as a child actor.

They discuss the sort of media coverage actors are regularly subject to, with connections to old rumors consistently being revived and love teams forever being in the forefront. Aquino muses, “Hindi ko alam kung dapat ko ba silang intindihin dahil ginagawa lang nila trabaho nila, o dapat ba nila kaming intindihin kasi ang dating bang pwede at dapat pang pag-usapan.” When asked whether or not it is fair that they are so easily subject to public scrutiny, Mendoza responds that while it isn’t entirely fair, it definitely comes with the territory. “You just find a way to respond where you can share part of your life without sharing all of it, and in a way that doesn’t offend anyone.”

Walking the tightrope of public perception, the two conclude that the craft is their safe space. Aquino says that after the last few romantic films, he’d like to try something more along the lines of horror or suspense, just to shake things up and challenge himself further. He also mentions wanting to tell more socially-conscious stories, having pitched ideas to some independent directors stories discussing child prostitution specifically. Mendoza, on the other hand, says she looks for roles she’s never done before, and that she is truly a fan of love stories in every form.

Beyond words

Aquino and Mendoza admit that it took them each some time to get there, particularly because verbal communication was not an option. Aquino says that their first interaction was slightly awkward as they are both naturally quiet and introverted personalities, but says, “Naging kumportable ako sa kanya sa dance workshop, kasi kailangan parang naaamoy niya yung hininga ko at naaamoy ko kung hininga niya.” Mendoza adds in jest, “May nabuo naman kaming friendship, surprisingly. Super kampante lang ako na kaya niyang i-pull off yung character niya and kaya niya akong tulungan as an actress. And yun naman yung nangyari, yun yung naging relationship namin sa set.”

She discusses her personal reservations about tackling this role. Being the dubsmash queen widely known for her facial contortions and sense of humor, Mendoza says that she was equally excited and terrified to get out of her comfort zone. “So far, ito yung pinakaseryosong role na nagawa ko. Very challenging for me kasi sanay ako sa comedy. Wala masyadong familiar sa akin sa ganito, so yun yung naging pinaka malaking challenge para sa akin, yung magseryoso,” says Mendoza with a laugh. “Alam ng mga fans ko na nagsstruggle ako sa heavy scenes, but with the help of Direk and Carlo, hindi ko naexpect na magagawa ko siya. Proud naman ako na kaya ko pala.”

Aquino, conversely, says that he’s one to never be fully sure of any of his performances. Despite being well-lauded throughout his career, Aquino says he is his own worst critic, and always makes notes on where he feels he can improve once he sees the final cut. Of the practical aspect of playing someone who’s unable to verbally express his feelings, Aquino also confesses that some scenes in the film required multiple takes until it felt more authentic. “Malaking bagay sa akin yung, kahit tahimik ako, pag may linya, sinasabi mo out loud yung lines. Mas masakit kasi yung binibigkas mo, kung kunyari magpapaalam ka. Pag sina-sign mo, hindi mo alam kung paano mo itatawid yung mga ganyan eksena.”

Love Lessons

“The struggle in every relationship is communication. What more when isa sa inyo hearing at yung isa sa inyo hindi?” Aquino muses. Mendoza agrees, saying that there are various perceptions especially in relationships where one partner has a disability, that she herself had. “Hindi ibig sabihin na dahil deaf yung isa hindi na magwwork. Maraming ways for someone to let you know and let you feel that you are loved. Minsan mas mararamdaman ng hearing ang pagmamahal ng taong hindi nakakapagsalita, kasi minsan madali lang yung magsalita.”

“Minsan nasasanay ka rin at pinapalagpas mo yung mga ginagawa ng tong nagmamahal sayo, pero naremind ako tung ginawa namin to, yung halaga ng effort,” says Aquino. “Kesyo nakakarinig o hindi, kailangan lagi mong pinaparamdam na mahal mo yung sinasabing mahal mo.”

CARLO AQUINO MAINE MENDOZA
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