Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Smaller and Smaller Circles (Raya Martin, 2017)

Walang serial killer sa Pilipinas.

The last month of 2017 was a boon for cinephiles with the release of two notable film adaptations. The pair of standout films debuted amidst the Christmas shopping rush. The Palanca-winning novel Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan smoothly transformed into an equally competent thriller by Raya Martin. Loy Arcenas' Ang Larawan, based on Nick Joaquin's play A Portrait of the Filipino as an Artist, won the Best Picture award at the 2017 Metro Manila Film Fest.

Smaller and Smaller Circles deals with two Jesuit priests investigating a series of child killings in a major garbage dump area in Manila. A top crime investigator debunks the priests' theory of a serial killer by saying that there are no serial killers in the Philippines. He mockingly adds, 'serial killers only exist in Hollywood movies.'

Smaller and Smaller Circles doesn't have the budget of Hollywood movies such as Silence of the Lambs and Seven. The low budget clearly shows in some scenes being a bit dark and not sharp. However, the local film can beat the hell out of a majority of Hollywood films by its characterization and storytelling.

Father Gus Saenz is a forensic anthropologist and Father Lucero is a clinical psychologist. Both are widely educated and Jesuits so it is easy to believe them taking on, and excelling, in unusual jobs.

I love how the film portrays the two priests doggedly fighting evil and corruption in their own little ways. They tangle with powerful church authorities who are made complicit with the acts of erring priests. They cross swords with spotlight-hungry police officers. Father Saenz risks his life in order to confront the murderer.

The film is not entirely grim as I remember guffawing to two scenes. The first one has a smirking Father Saenz putting down a dental clinic staff's mistaken belief of a gift to the clinic. The second time was near the end when the serial killer had a chat with Father Saenz. There's a charming cameo by filmmaker Giancarlo Abrahan as well.

French institutions play a big part in honing the investigative skills of Father Saenz and police beat reporter Joanna Bonifacio. It is no wonder then that in real life a French institution publicly declared the existence of a serial killer in the Philippines. No. The serial killer is not Jose Rizal despite his having the same initials as Jack the Ripper.

The name of the institution is The Liberation, a French newspaper. Now, you are just one Google search away from identifying the alleged Filipino serial killer.

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