My Blind Date With Life
German Film Week 2017
Film adaptation of Saliya Kahawatte's eponymous autobiography: At age 15, Saliya Kahawatte almost entirely loses his eyesight. Albeit nearly blind, his faith in life remains unbroken and he is unwilling to be put down as „disabled“ by society. Without a white cane or other aids he feels his way through life, compensating his lack of ability to see by sharpening the remaining senses. He graduates from a regular high school, finishes a training as a hotel clerk, studies hotel management und starts working as a waiter in a five-star hotel – without anyone realizing that he is practically blind. For 15 years he succeeds in his career and nobody is the wiser.
Saliya (Kostja Ullmann) is a hardworking and ambitious student whose life takes a sudden turn after finding himself in a predicament: he is losing his sight. He is able to see only 5% of what people with normal eyesight can see. Determined to pursue his dreams, he passes his A-levels and applies for apprenticeship at a luxurious hotel in Munich. To his surprise, he gets accepted, all along doing everything he can to hide his condition from people around him. But fate is not always on Saliya’s side: he has to befriend a number of colleagues to help him get through every hurdle as a „blind man“ and learn the ropes the hard way. He perseveres as more challenges come his way, stumbling many times but always standing up, and in due course also finds someone who loves him back.
My Blind Date with Life aspires to be inspiring – with its narrative obviously following a common hero’s template to satisfy this – and it manages to do so in quite a charming way, thanks to the mesmerizing presence and performance of Ullmann. He holds the film together with his charisma and infectious energy, drowning many moments that are too dreary and generic. The film maximizes him well as he appears in almost every scene. As often with stories based on real life, it tends to overemphasize the trajectory of its protagonist’s „triumph,“ heedless of emotional nuance and story development, and resorts to glamorizing the condition. This approach lacks subtlety, and there are several interesting plots that get neglected (e.g., the Sri Lankan father, the doting sister and caring mother). But audiences who are merely looking for a feel-good movie to tug at their hearts won’t be disappointed: My Blind Date with Life is mostly pleasing and enjoyable, and it’s hard not to smile as the credits start rolling.
My Blind Date with Life is based on a true story. It takes inspiration from the biography of Saliya, who lost 95% of his vision when he fifteen. But determined to follow his dreams in the hospitality industry, he applies for an apprenticeship at a major hotel without telling them about his disability. Through meticulous study and the help of some helpful people, Saliya attempts to just fake it through the entire training.
If the film was only about this strange, remarkable feat of deceit against an industry that wouldn’t give the main character a chance, it would be on pretty shaky ground, but okay overall. But the movie sets out to deliver the kind of conventional movie thrills that studios seem to think people want. And so, every now and then, the movie takes a detour into romantic comedy territory as Saliya woos the fetching young woman that delivers produce to the hotel. This whole subplot introduces a whole other set of elements to the film that distract from the Saliya’s struggle to somehow prove that he can do this job in spite of his lack of sight.
It’s one thing for Saliya to try defy conventional wisdom in an industry unwilling to take the risk on him. It’s an entirely different thing for him to be lying to a woman he likes, and taking on important responsibilities for her without letting her know about what he can and cannot do. Putting all that aside, the movie is mildly successful at relating the inspirational aspects of this story. One might just have to ignore the non-starter romance.