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Munting Tinig (Small Voices)

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  • Noel Vera <noelbotevera@hotmail.com>
    Small doses Noel Vera Gil Portes Munting Tinig (Small Voices) is about a teacher (Alessandra de Rossi) who arrives at a backwater town as substitute for the
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 8, 2003
      Small doses

      Noel Vera

      Gil Portes' "Munting Tinig" (Small Voices) is about a teacher
      (Alessandra de Rossi) who arrives at a backwater town as substitute
      for the school's departing teacher, said substitute being not much
      older than the students themselves. Sounds familiar? Try Zhang
      Yimou's "Not One Less." One of her students is so poor he has to
      share his school uniform with his older brother, both taking turns
      wearing the uniform to class. Sounds familiar? Try Majid
      Majidi's "Children of Heaven." To raise morale and bring class and
      school together, the teacher enters her students in a contest (in
      this case a chorale singing competition), struggling to get the
      parents' approval where they are mainly interested in using their
      children as free labor. Sounds familiar? Try "Sister Act"
      and "Stand and Deliver." "Munting Tinig" was written by Adolf Alix
      Jr, Portes himself, and Senedy Que, who also rents out art films on
      various formats (he has a pretty good collection, too). One wonders
      if perhaps the writers dipped into Que's collection for ideas, and
      for inspiration whenever they were creatively stuck while writing the
      script.

      It's perhaps not a fair assumption to make (even with evidence
      practically staring at you) and not a big deal even if true (Portes
      claims in one of his many press releases that the shared uniform is
      a true story); I just don't think it's a good sign when the audience
      plays a game of "where from?" with your movie. But what else can you
      do? The storytelling is, to put it kindly, erratic--the picture
      dwells on the extraneous (de Rossi listening to her landlady (Gina
      Alajar) talk endlessly about her daughter (the recently departed
      teacher)), while skimping on the crucial (de Rossi waking up to
      learn that every parent has suddenly given their approval). The
      camera understates to the point of dullness (some scenes look flat
      enough for TV), but when approaching a dramatic climax, suddenly
      loses all shame (crying is done in long close-ups, to catch every
      falling drop). The jokes are lame--one older boy is kidded for
      falling in love with de Rossi, another suffers from an incurable
      case of farting mostly done in poor taste (which I don't mind) and
      not very funny (which I do). One subplot, about two brothers whose
      father (Noni Buencamino, excellent and underutilized as usual)
      joined the insurgency, has an unintentionally chilling effect in
      light of recent events: you wonder what they think about his
      belonging to a group that possibly plants bombs or kidnaps
      foreigners (it's almost the basis for a far more interesting film
      altogether).

      This being a small-budgeted, small-scale film, characterization
      should play a crucial role; unfortunately it's mostly a hit-or-miss
      affair (a mostly miss-than-hit affair). De Rossi's teacher is the
      standard-issue stereotype of the noble educator, with a few off-key
      details: she comes to town hoping to do a bit of service and brings
      along (as symbol, probably unintentional, of her higher cultural and
      financial capabilities) her flute. She has inchoate ambitions about
      making a difference, but depends on the allowance her mother sends
      her to buy boxes of ice candy and the odd chorale costume (must be a
      generous-sized allowance there). And she's so damned passive--all
      she does through most of the film is walk around, eyes huge with
      indignation at the tremendous inadequacies of the Philippine
      educational system (what, doesn't she watch the evening news, or read
      the papers?). When she's not being shocked she's an open bucket,
      ready to receive every passing soul's two centavos' worth of wisdom
      and/or advice (Alajar being her landlady dumps about a hundred pesos
      nightly).

      The defect is all the more glaring when you realize just how easy it
      would have been to make de Rossi's character interesting--simply ask:
      what kind of person is crazy enough to want to become a
      schoolteacher? Worse, what kind of person is crazy enough to want
      to become a schoolteacher in the provinces? De Rossi's character
      could have been hiding some kind of inner inadequacy--a hunger to
      prove herself to her mother, maybe, or a driving need to live up to
      her father's idealism. She could initially come off as being too
      aggressive, or too strident, or too demanding; or, like the teacher
      in "Not One Less," totally indifferent to everything except the
      promise of extra money--anything to contrast with the eventual
      nobility. Even a villain would help; Dexter Doria shows some snap and
      bite early on, as the school supervisor who sells ice candy in her
      spare time, but by latter half of the picture her supervisor is as
      soggily supportive of de Rossi as the rest. Purely virtuous
      protagonists are the most difficult to dramatize; they need a
      tremendous amount of care and attention to detail to bring off
      convincingly, otherwise they end up looking like plaster saints.
      Portes with his casual, off-the-cuff approach fails, his audience
      fails to believe accordingly, and the film as a result fails to come
      to life.

      Which is a pity. Education IS a pressing issue, the film DOES have
      its small-budgeted heart in the right place; and, watching it on its
      first night in the theaters, it's annoying to see just how few people
      actually bothered to go see it at all. I'm tempted to recommend the
      film anyway, for the abovementioned reasons and to give it a
      fighting chance to be seen; I just can't bring myself to recommend
      it in a very large voice, is all.

      First appeared in Businessworld 10.25.02

      (Comments? Email me at noelbotevera@...)
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