US papers give Tinig rave reviews
US papers give Tinig rave reviews
FUNFARE - Ricky Lo () - October 14, 2003 - 12:00am
It’s so endearing that only a grouch wouldn’t be charmed.

That’s how film critic V.A. Musetto of The New York Post described Gil M. Portes’ Small Voices (Munting Tinig) which opened last Thursday, Oct. 9, in New York.

According to my friends who were at a screening, the movie was welcomed with "a warm applause" by the audience. I’m happy for direk Gil who is finally "vindicated" by a wider and more discerning and appreciative audience. When Voices/Tinig was shown in Manila not just once but twice (the second time released by no less than Warner Bros.), local audiences gave it a lukewarm response. Oh, well, maybe the movie was meant for an international audience which knows a good film when it sees one, as it pleased not only the New York Post critic but those from The Village Voice and The New York Times.

I’m proud of direk Gil who has been single-handedly moving heaven and earth, so to speak, to bring Filipino films to the attention of the world. It’s true that direk Gil is marketing his own films, produced mostly by "indies" (independent companies), but in the long run if his films get noticed (as Voice/Tinig is now), I’m sure film-lovers not only in the US but in other parts of the world will become curious and interested in other Filipino films by other directors.

Raoul Tidalgo (of the New York-based The Filipino Reporter) sent Funfare a clipping of Musetto’s New York Post review and I’m reprinting it in full so that we can all applaud direk Gil’s ground-breaking contribution to the local movie industry in particular and the country in general. As you read on, you will notice that the film’s success is attributed not only to its maker but also to the country where the maker comes from.

Here’s Musetto’s review, entitled Lyrical Filipino Charmer:

There’s not much new in this Filipino film by longtime director Gil M. Portes. But it’s so endearing that only a grouch wouldn’t be charmed.

Melinda (sweet-faced Alessandra de Rossi) is a new teacher in an impoverished, remote village.

She’s determined that her class will compete – and win – in a major singing competition.

First, however, she must persuade parents to let their children stay after school to practise when the kids are needed in the fields.

There is no doubt that Melinda will prevail and her dream will come true, but watching it happen is most rewarding.

Besides, when was the last time you saw a movie from the Philippines?

Raoul said that The New York Post gave Tinig three stars (out of a possible four), the same rating Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill (starring Uma Thurman) got. Intolerable Cruelty, starring George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Jones, got three and a half.

was the Philippines’ entry in last summer Oscars’ Best Foreign-Language Films category (won by Germany’s Nowhere in Africa), while Star Cinema’s Dekada ’70, directed by Chito Roño and starring Vilma Santos, has been submitted "for consideration" in the same category for next year’s Oscars.

Raoul also sent Funfare a clipping of critic Dave Kehr’s similarly rave review published by The New York Times the same day (Oct. 10) the New York Post did. Here it is, in full:

Arriving in the impoverished village of Malawig in the Philippines, the idealistic new schoolteacher, Melinda (Alessandra de Rossi), is shocked to find a corrupt school administration, indifferent, unprepared teachers and students who are eager to learn but are routinely pulled out of class by their parents who need them to work in the fields.

Facing outright hostility from local politicians and anger and suspicion from parents, Melinda sets out to remake the system. She decides that the best way is to motivate her students and their parents will be by entering her class in a regional singing contest where triumph will mean validation of her hopes and reinforcement of her student’s dream.

As a piece of pedagogical fiction, Gil M. Portes’ Small Voices, which opens today in Manhattan, resembles any number of films that have come before it: it is difficult to watch without thinking in particular of Wes Craven’s unfortunate 1999 Music of the Heart which featured Meryl Streep teaching classical violin to students at a tough Harlem high school.

But where Music of the Heart seemed to consist only of calculated, heartwarming moments, Small Voices has an appealing innocence, a genuine belief in the story and respect for its characters that allows the emotional payoffs to arrive naturally and affectingly rather than being imposed from the outside through manipulative music, emphatic closeups and bi-star emoting.

Mr. Portes has directed more than 20 features in his native Philippines and he is enough of a professional to try to dominate his audience’s reaction. This modest movie puts much of its faith in Ms. de Rossi, its 20-year-old principal actress, who has a natural sweetness and modesty that carries over to the entire project.

And while Mr. Portes doesn’t belong to the Philippines’ highly prolific commercial film industry – he is an independent, working without studio and television support – he does understand the popular cinema’s need for large emotions and grand climaxes, all of which are generously supplied here. Even so, while the cute kids are singing away, Mr. Portes is able to slip enough social observation around the melodrama to give Little Voices an understated but real political dimension. This tiny film is heartfelt, well-made and worthy of attention.

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