The society of respected film critics that hands out the annual Gawad Urian in cinematic excellence

Boses: Music is the message

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By Butch Francisco

Music is a key element in “Boses,” an entry in the recent Cinemalaya competition. It is a heart-tugging drama about a teacher-pupil relationship, the story of a violinist named Ariel (played by the international award-winning violinist Coke Bolipata) who gives hope to the battered young boy Onyok (Julian Duque).

The film opens with the kid’s drunkard of a father (Ricky Davao) getting arrested for child abuse. The boy is then brought to a center run by Cherry Pie Picache. Although Picache and her staff treat the children well, the center is still no paradise for the young wards because some kids can be cruel bullies. This is Onyok’s new calvary in life and to escape from that he hides inside the cabinet of Ariel’s house, which is also located within the center’s compound.

Ariel and Onyok are kindred spirits. Both are badly wounded and bruised. Onyok—from the cigarette burns and repeated beatings inflicted on him by his father (the boy had also ceased to talk—maybe due to trauma or a physical object rammed down his throat during one of his father’s violent moments). The battering he gets from his abusive father is also emotional. His equally irresponsible mother has abandoned him.

Ariel for his part cannot recover from a love lost. The pain he feels is understandable, but I won’t make a spoiler here, better for viewers to see for themselves.

Through music, they find soulmates in each other. Ariel discovers a musiclly gifted child in Onyok and this is how their bond begins. Life is not an eternal concerto which makes us forget our problems. In the case of Onyok, he may have found refuge in playing the violin, but he still has to deal with his personal family problems it the end.

What I like best about “Boses” is its idea that there is nothing perfect in life—not even near perfect. That there is no heaven on earth—except maybe when the sweet strains of music fills the air?

Even the person in charge of the center that provides shelter for abused children (Picache), admits that the system is not foolproof and that they are still learning along the way, finding ways to better address the problems of the children.

The characters in the story are also flawed, which is how we all are in real life. For a while, I thought that the part being played by Picache’s administrator was Miss Perfect—kind, sympathetic and compassionate but it turns out she is also given to outbursts that make her character real.

If there is anything that comes to near-perfection—as film, that is—I’d say it is “Boses.” Graded A by the Cinema Evaluation Board (CEB), it is one of the best films of the year. Director Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil has a full grip of the material (screenplay is by Froilan Medina and Rody Vera) and she handles it with great care and injects into it a lot of creativity.

Although it’s one movie that would make you weep from beginning to end (a whole bundle of hankies would come in handy), the director doesn’t manipulate you by staging overly dramatic scenes that exploit the tragic situation of the kid Onyok. Scenes of paternal brutality are shown only in flashback and are very short. I don’t know what device Marfil uses to make the lachrymal glands work, but she succeeds at making everyone cry and the viewers’ tear ducts function practically during the entire run of the movie.

I guess it also helps that Marfil found the right actors to play the key characters in the story. The role of the violinist Ariel actually was originally intended for an established actor. But it had to be an actor who could pass himself off as a cellist (as the original script called for) in parts that call for him to play the musical instrument and not rely on the so-called “spaghetti arms” editing device (when a real musician takes over in tight shots and you see only the arms or hands playing).

Since Bolipata was doing the musical direction anyway, Marfil thought of offering him the acting job (the cellist then had to be a violinist)—and he accepted. A good thing he did because scenes that show him playing the violin (and these are crucial to the story) are authentic. As an actor, you notice Bolipata’s discomfiture in some sequences (especially in his love scenes with Meryl Soriano, the love of Ariel’s life). He is at his best in the scenes where he plays the violin. No one could have done those better.

As for Bolipata’s young co-star, Julian Duque, as one of his prized violin students, is remarkable. Not only is he a gifted violinist, he is effective and poignant as actor as well. In “Boses,” even in his nonspeaking moments, you see pain or joy etched all over his face and frail body.

The two acting veterans in the film—Davao and Picache—terrific performances as well. Davao stands out in that part where he becomes repentant and for all the evil deeds he does to his own kid, your heart still goes out to him and this is another plus factor for the film because we don’t see any black-and-white characters anywhere—and this is again how it is in real life.

“Boses” stresses the fact that there are no easy things on this earth. Even if Onyok is gifted as a musician, he has to work hard for it and has to have discipline, which is difficult to instill in him given his age and circumstances. There are a lot more to be learned—and enjoy—in “Boses.” My only hope is that the message—and music—will be heard.