Puzzle of a film turns into a fiesta
Known mainly for directing experimental films, Raya Martin is venturing into unfamiliar territory: the narrative movie. Making things more interesting for the indie filmmaker is the fact that his latest work, “Smaller and Smaller Circles,” is based on a crime novel written by FH Batacan.
Martin, however, is not the type to shun a mighty challenge. “Now, I know how it feels to be on the other side,” he told the Inquirer on the set of his film in Sampaloc, Manila.
He compared the process of creating a “mainstream” movie to assembling a jigsaw puzzle. “It’s a test of patience,” he conceded. “It’s like breaking a picture into smaller pieces, and putting them back together in the end.”
The symbolism is quite appropriate, considering that the film is a mystery thriller. It’s quite a page-turner, Martin related: It follows the investigation conducted by two priests, a forensic expert and a psychologist, who are in hot pursuit of a serial killer responsible for the mutilation of young boys, whose bodies turn up at the Payatas dumpsite.
“It first came out as a novella in 2002. Even back then, it already had a cult following. I remember borrowing a copy from (fellow director) Nick Olanka and reading it in New York,” Martin recalled.
When the longer version came out in 2015, he also made certain to read it. Months ago, he found himself discussing the novel with colleagues Ria Limjap and Moira Lang, who eventually ended up as the film’s producers-scriptwriters. Executive producers are Fernando Ortigas of Tuko Film Productions and EA Rocha of Buchi Boy Entertainment.
“I love the book,” he owned up. “When you read it, you can’t help visualizing it as a movie. It’s very cinematic.”
For the same reason, Martin is quite daunted by the prospect of adapting the novel for the big screen. “Everyone who has read the book has, in a way, seen a version of the movie in his or her mind,” he explained. “That makes me nervous, because its fans have high expectations.”
In the end, he acknowledged, “We can only trust the version we are pushing, which is hopefully close to the spirit of the book.”
Although producer Limjap pointed out that comparisons to book-turned-movie/genre flicks like “The Silence of the Lambs” would be inevitable, Martin insisted that “Smaller and Smaller Circles” is not a typical “Hollywood whodunit.”
“Its sensibility is very Filipino,” Martin noted. “In the course of the investigation, we will meet all sorts of characters. It isn’t a simple suspense film; it’s actually one big fiesta. Every day, I got to meet different actors from the mainstream and indie scenes—from theater, television and the movies. It’s an acting fiesta.”
It’s a moveable feast for actors. Its enviable ensemble is led by Nonie Buencamino and Sid Lucero as Jesuit priests, and Bembol Roco and Christopher de Leon as NBI agents.
Also in the cast are Carla Humphries, TJ Trinidad, Gladys Reyes, Madeleine Nicolas, Bernard Palanca, Alex Medina, Cholo Barretto, Raffy Tejada, Jess Mendoza, Joy Viado, Mae Paner, Dexter Doria and Tessie Tomas.
Another major character in the film is the city itself—Manila in all its sprawling, manic, humid splendor.
“It’s also an architectural showcase,” he quipped. “We want to show a different side of the city.”
A favorite shooting site is an old school on Legarda St. in Manila. Location hunting made Martin confront the wide gap between the country’s rich and poor. “In one day, we visited an impoverished neighborhood in Tondo and a posh hotel in Makati.”
For the pivotal dumpsite, Martin and his crew had to be extra creative.
“Payatas no longer exists,” he said. “We had to recreate it for this movie.”
The unpredictable climate also turned into a major character in the film. “We shot in May and June … May, which is unbearably hot, and June, which is the start of the rainy season. We showed nature’s mood swings in the movie.”
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