Cardinal Tagle endorses ‘Boses’ as story of redemption

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“Boses” actor Julian Duque and director Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil

MANILA, Philippines—Is the archbishop of Manila now a publicist for indie films?

But “It’s a wonderful movie.”

That’s how Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle finds the independent film “Boses” and, according to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), he is endorsing it to the followers of the Church.

CBCP News, the CBCP’s official news service, said on Wednesday that Tagle was urging Catholics to see Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil’s 95-minute movie that became one of the best films in the Cinemalaya festival of indies in 2008.

“It is not only reflective of some of the important concerns we are facing in families, especially the plight of the children, it is also a story of redemption, how God can use friendship, compassion and music to restore broken hearts and spirits,” CBCP News quoted Tagle as saying.

The film, starring Julliard-trained violinist Alfonso “Coke” Bolipata and child actor Julian Duque, is about the friendship born out of the love for music between a battered child and a reclusive violinist.

First shown in 2008 at the fourth Cinemalaya and screened in local and international film festivals, “Boses” (“The Voice”) is set for commercial release through SM Cinemas across the country on July 31.

“It is a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the human will,” Tagle said.

“I am inviting you to watch it  … please bring your families and friends to this wonderful movie,” he added.

Also for students

Aside from Tagle, Fr. Gregg Banaga, the head of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP), also endorsed the film to students.

In a memo to CEAP member schools, Banaga pointed out that the movie tries to deal with the problem of child abuse suffered silently by many Filipino children.

“The educational aspect of the movie, which can be used as an instructional tool for students from upper grades to college, prompted [us] to support it wholeheartedly,” said Banaga, whose statement is posted on the CEAP website.

“Watch this movie. It may be used as [teaching tool] in Christian living, makabayan (civics) and other related subjects,” he added.

“Boses” garnered six Golden Screen awards in 2009, including best director, breakthrough performance by Duque, best original screenplay, best musical score and best motion picture for drama.

It won a movie child award of the year for Duque’s performance at the Star Awards for Movies also in 2009.

Music’s healing power

In the film, Duque plays the role of Onyok, a young boy who forms an unlikely friendship with reclusive musician Ariel (Bolipata).

Made mute by unbearable experiences with his own father, Onyok is brought to a children’s shelter where he suffers another form of bullying until a plucky girl, Shirley, becomes his protector. An encounter with the shelter’s “mad man,” violinist Ariel, changes the course of Onyok’s life.

Guilt-ridden and traumatized over a girlfriend’s death, Ariel initially terrorizes Onyok until he discovers the boy’s gift.

Such a plot may seem to demand too much acting from first-time performers Bolipata and Duque, but viewers who know them are in for a surprise, as both perform like pros, they can immediately get hooked into the reel characters.

“I think it’s significant to note that the movie is titled ‘Boses,’ but Onyok, its main character, doesn’t say a single word in the movie,” Bolipata said.

“Music was able to reach Onyok and Ariel. A nonverbal kind of healing,” he said.

Music is also central to the enjoyment of the film. Viewers will find themselves carried away by pianist Jourdann Petalver’s score. Under Bolipata’s musical direction, familiar pieces like “Ang Pipit,” “Ugoy ng Duyan,” and Vivaldi’s “Spring Concerto” were woven into the story together with Petalver’s soulful original compositions.

“On a personal level, the film also opens up a way for me to deconstruct my own process as a performer,” Bolipata said.

“In music, the connection to your emotions is not as direct as acting. In music, it’s more abstract, more sublimated through movement, though vibrato,” he said, adding that the experience has added depth to how he connected with his audience. “You become more aware on the stage.”

Poor kids’ house

The film was shot in and around the main house of Creative Alternatives for Social Action (Casa) San Miguel in Zambales. Established by Bolipata in 1993, Casa San Miguel is a foundation that brings music and the arts to underprivileged children. Many of the students at Casa San Miguel come from farming and fishing families.

“Children need to be able to express themselves—and sometimes, their vocabulary is not enough to effectively communicate their emotions. This is where the arts come in,” Bolipata said.

Directed by Marfil and written by Froilan Medina and Rody Vera with cinematography by Nap Jamir, “Boses” also stars veterans Meryll Soriano, Cherry Pie Picache, and Ricky Davao.

Duque said Bolipata’s participation in the film bolstered his confidence. “I was very young when the film was shot. But Sir Coke was there, I was not afraid,” he said.

Duque, now a scholar for music at De La Salle Zobel School, was only 7 years old when he did “Boses.”

He said the experience whetted his appetite for acting.

“If I’d become an actor. I want to be like Ricky Davao,” he said in an interview during a recent cast reunion.

For Davao, who plays Marcelo, Onyok’s father, that’s “flattery.” He said Duque acted so well and with so much heart. He added, in jest, that at some points the boy might have upstaged him.

Resonant themes

“Boses” pushes the issue of child abuse without being vulgar or too visual. The sensitive treatment of the subject has given the film an A rating from the Cinema Evaluation Board and a following from different sectors as well.

The film has enjoyed a groundswell of support, from child-focused organizations, religious groups to government agencies, mainly because of the hopeful theme that shines through despite the bleak situation portrayed in the film.

Recently, “Boses” was presented to the members of the Vienna International Centre (VIC) Club Filipino, an organization put up by Filipinos working at the United Nations in Vienna, youth leaders from Ang Mananampalatayang Gumagawa (AMG), and to teachers invited by Ortigas Library Foundation.

The film has garnered endorsements from the Department of Education, the Commission on Higher Education and the CBCP’s Episcopal Commission on Youth. It was also included in a seven-film series for officers and employees of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) who may later be posted overseas. The screenings were sponsored by the Cultural Diplomacy Unit of the DFA.

“We’re thankful for all the support we are getting. It’s unlikely that an indie film gets to be released commercially so long after it was first put out there,” Marfil said.

“I have seen the film connect with all kinds of audiences: young and old, rich and poor, from Tondo to New York—they shout, cheer and cry. I draw my strength and confidence from these reactions,” she said.—With a report from Tish Martinez, Contributor

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