Boses originally came out in 2008 as part of the Cinemalaya Film Festival. It garnered quite a lot of goodwill back then, but like many films that come out of the festival, it didn’t make it out to the larger public. I don't know what kind of mathematics goes into releasing a film into theaters five years after it debuts, but here we are. The film has aged remarkably well in the interim, the quality of the production holding up, and the grace of its convictions staying true. The story does feel a little underdeveloped, but the overall effect is still rather pleasing.
Onyok (Julian Duque) is taken away from his abusive father Marcelo (Ricky Davao). He’s brought to a shelter for abused children, where he has trouble fitting in due to his inability to speak. But at the shelter is the mercurial violinist Ariel (Coke Bolipata), who just moved away from Manila after going through a difficult period. Young Onyok hears Ariel playing his violin, and becomes curious. Ariel, though reluctant at first, decides to give the child lessons. And it turns out that Onyok is a prodigy.
The film only really hints at stories built out of this premise. It suggests, for example, that Ariel might be pushing Onyok too hard, and for selfish reasons. It also establishes the fact that Onyok’s father doesn’t approve of him playing the violin. But these threads go largely unexplored, the film basically resolving these issues without doing any of the real, dramatic work. This would be a bigger problem for most movies, but Boses is so overtly sweet and gentle that it doesn’t really matter all that much. Whatever narrative might be missing is generally expressed in the film’s beautiful musical sequences.
The film makes a lot out of music’s ability to express emotion. It’s the thematic thread that holds the otherwise loose narrative together. It immerses itself in the music, letting the notes say what the characters can’t. And it’s all wonderfully done. The secret here is that the film allows the music to be imperfect, to have those human touches that reveal the character of the musician. Coke Bolipata isn’t really much of an actor, but his violin playing is really expressive, and it makes up for whatever bum notes he might hit in his acting debut.
But what is most interesting about the movie is its treatment of its advocacy. What makes it so remarkable is its acknowledgement of how imperfect these shelters can be. They can turn out to be hostile environments as well, and some of these kids have lost all hope of ever reconciling with their parents. At one point, one of the characters admits that the program isn’t perfect, but they’re trying. It doesn’t simply whitewash the situation, making it out that these programs always work for every abused child. It instead depicts the problems that these organizations may face, and lays out the hope that things do turn out okay sometimes.
Boses is a neat little film that has a good heart. And despite being five years old, with whole generations of technical equipment having been developed in that same period, it still manages to look better than a lot of what’s currently being put out there. It holds up, its message just as vital as it was years ago, its story just as sweet. Perhaps the narrative gets a little simplistic by the end, but it all works well enough within its scale. The film is pragmatic enough that it doesn’t sell its audience the promise of a happy ending. It instead presents hope, which is a pretty remarkable thing.