Portess Munting Tinig (Small Voices) is about a
teacher (Alessandra de Rossi) who arrives at a backwater town
as substitute for the schools departing teacher, said
substitute being not much older than the students themselves.
familiar? Try Zhang Yimous 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 Majidis 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.
Tinig was written by Adolf Alix Jr, Portes and Senedy Que,
the latter also rents out art films in various formats (has
a pretty good collection, too). One wonders if perhaps the writers
dipped into Ques collection for ideas whenever they were
creatively stuck while writing the script.
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 dont think its a good sign
when the audience plays a game of "where from?" with
a movie. But what else can you do?
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).
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 dont mind) and not very funny (which I do).
subplot, about two brothers whose father (Noni Buencamino, excellent
and underutilized as usual) joined the insurgency, has an unintentionally
chilling effect in the light of recent events: you wonder what
they think about his belonging to a group that possibly plants
bombs or kidnaps foreigners (its almost the basis for
a far more interesting film altogether).
being a small-budgeted, small-scale film, characterization should
play a crucial role; unfortunately its mostly a hit-or-miss
affair (a mostly miss-than-hit affair). De Rossis 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
shes 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 (doesnt
she watch the evening news, or read the papers?). When shes
not being shocked shes an open bucket, ready to receive
every passing souls two centavos worth of wisdom
and/or advice (Alajar being her landlady dumps about a hundred
defect is all the more glaring when you realize just how easy
it would have been to make de Rossis 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?
Rossis 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 fathers 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.
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 the 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.
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, its annoying to see
just how few people actually bothered to go see it at all.
tempted to recommend the film anyway, for the abovementioned
reasons and to give it a fighting chance to be seen; I just
cant bring myself to recommend it in a very large voice,
October 25, 2002. The above also
appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review Of Philippine
Cinema (BigO Books).
Click here to order.