An autopsy behind the upcoming movie ‘Smaller and Smaller Circles’

It could be said that the themes of romance, comedy, or a combination of both, dominate modern day Philippine cinema and television. Made evident with the popularity of so called “love teams” on afternoon teleseryes, Filipinos indulge themselves with these shows and clamor to support their favorite actors and actresses through social media.

Amidst the widespread inclination towards these forms of entertainment lies the growing field of other genres and independent films. Made evident with the commercial success of T.B.A.’s (Tuko, Buchi Boy, Artikulo Uno) Heneral Luna, the film producers now bring onto the table an upcoming thrilling and gruesome movie. Adapted from FH Batacan’s renowned crime novel Smaller and Smaller Circles, a motion picture of the same name will hit theaters and take its viewers through a visual experience of the blood spilled streets of Payatas.

Photo by Yuri Tan

Photo by Yuri Tan

Tracing the way back to where it all began

Smaller and Smaller Circles follows two Jesuit forensic experts, Fr. Augusto Saenz (Nonie Buencamino) and Fr. Jerome Lucero (Sid Lucero), as they investigate a series of murders by an ambitious serial killer in the slums of Payatas. They are joined by news reporter Joanna Bonifacio (Carla Humphries).

Claiming the cinematic narration of events that take place within the expanded novella as their source of inspiration, the creation of this feature film is under the wing of experimental director Raya Martin and notable producers Ria Limjap and Moira Lang. In an interview with Martin and Limjap last October 21, 2016 at the Smaller and Smaller Circles School Tour for the Ateneo de Manila segment where they showed excerpts from the film, Martin tells of how the two of them came together for the movie. “We were friends before we worked together. I worked with her for one of my previous films The Great Cinema Party. [Limjap] helped me produce it,” he shared.

Lang was able to aid in achieving their vision for the adaptation as she is good friends with the novel’s writer. “She’s an award-winning writer and producer who’s worked with the best, like Lav Diaz. She’s written a lot of mainstream hits like Maximo Oliveros, Zombadings, Milan and Anak. She was writing all the Star Cinema hits,” she said.

Capturing the scene of the crime

Set to release sometime in January 2017, Smaller and Smaller Circles aims to encapsulate viewers and lead them down the rabbit hole as they accompany forensic experts that uncover a series of murders. Despite the dark undertones of the film, Ateneans will be delighted to see their campus featured on the big screen. The university was a principal setting in the novel, making the producers determined to film some scenes on location.

The team had two days to shoot in the Loyola House of Studies, San Jose Seminary, and Gonzaga Hall. Limjap shares that they originally intended to shoot the simbang gabi scene in the Immaculate Conception Chapel but they were not able to do so due to scheduling conflicts. It must have been a miracle in disguise when there was a sudden downpour in their back-up location which forced them to pack up the shoot. “The scene was outdoors. So when it rained, nabasa ‘yung floor. It was 3:30 in the morning and we had to pack up the shoot,” he said. A window of opportunity opened up during the school’s summer break that allowed them to stick to their original plan of shooting on campus.

Photo by Yuri Tan

Photo by Yuri Tan

Looking at the bigger picture

Regarded as an experimentalist in the way that he shoots and directs, Martin says that he takes note of his target audience and adjusts accordingly as he transitions from his own style of cinematography towards a more commercial one. Martin and Limjap also mention that their motion picture is intended for the younger generation, yet is still made to be appreciated and understood by older groups.

Acknowledging this as his first commercial film, Martin speaks of how he wishes for it to remain as a thought-provoking, visceral work that’s different from most movies today.

“I think making films is also trying to encourage a conversation on certain things, topics, and issues,” says Martin. Limjap backs this up by stating that although it is visual entertainment, its essence need not be bound to this perception alone.  Instead, motion pictures also serve as an awakening towards new perspectives and a catalyst for discourse.

In relation to the aforementioned and the current affairs of the country, Limjap conveys how this movie is not commentary on the governing administration. Rather, what they wish to express is a message attuned towards the belief of karma. “[W]e just really hope that the message, which is very universal—it’s the unkindness or the kindness that you do to other people—will resonate and that people will become aware of the problems in our country and society,” he shares. Although it does not serve as a political statement, Limjap expatiates that they do wish for the film to open the eyes viewers towards social realities.

Encompassing various areas of the dark and daunting metro, the suspense that danger can come at any moment will surely keep individuals at the edge of their seats. Smaller and Smaller Circles is gearing up to be one of the most awaited films to be released next year.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article misattributed the full name of T.B.A. and the pronoun used for the writer of the novel was incorrect. These inaccuracies have since been corrected. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience these may have caused and will strive not to make similar mistakes in the future.

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