Thursday, August 7, 2008

'Boses': Music to heal

"MUSIC is a holy place, a cathedral so majestic that we can sense the magnificence of the universe, and also a hovel so simple and private that none of us can plumb its deepest secrets... It is the sounds of earth and sky, of tides and storms... From the first cry of life to that last sigh of death, from the beating of our hearts to the soaring of our imaginations, we are enveloped by sound and vibration every moment of our lives. It is the primal breath of creation itself, the speech of angels and atoms, the stuff of which life and dreams, souls and stars, are ultimately fashioned."

That quote is from the Overture (introduction) by Don Campbell, the author of the amazing book, "The Mozart Effect: Tapping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Mind, and Unlock the Creative Spirit."

This fave book of mine was on my mind while I was watching the film "Boses," directed by Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil, last Monday at the University of the Philippines' Film Center. After showing at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Cinemalaya 2008 films are now in UP. I thought if there was only one film I could watch, this better be it. I wanted to see the "Mozart effect" happen.

"Boses" didn't get the plum prize but it was on the short list and got very good reviews and comments. Here's my own.

The paths of two broken people--one a reclusive musician named Ariel who had known great love and played great violin music; and the other, a small, battered boy named Onyok who doesn't speak--meet. The setting is a shelter for abused children run by the violinist's sister in their own home ground in a rustic setting. Ariel's own refuge is a cottage inside the compound.

Noted violinist Coke Bolipata plays the role of what the children call baliw or mad musician (because of his erratic temper), while eight-year-old Julian Duque, a talented violinist, plays Onyok. Cherrie Pie Picache runs the shelter, while Ricky Davao is the abusive father who uses his son as an ash tray and punching bag. And yes, there is Shirley, Onyok's older and protective playmate. And where's Onyok's mother? Guess where.

The flashbacks give context. Onyok being battered verbally, emotionally and physically by his father. Ariel during happy times with his music protégé and girlfriend, Juilliard-bound Bianca (Meryll Soriano) whom he later loses in a dark, tragic way.

Onyok's refuge and hiding place is the closet. He can hear but does not speak. Battering silenced him. He lost his voice to violence. It is through the violin that his heart would find a voice.

It is Onyok's silence that speaks the unspoken. It is his eyes that mirror the terror. In the case of Ariel, the violin is his medium to express the dissonance and sadness in his soul, until... (Ariel playing Massenet's "Meditation from Thais" sets the tone.)

How music welded these two broken souls and set them off on the road to healing is explored in this moving film. It is obvious that scriptwriter Rody Vera had delved into the nuances of rehabilitation not just of the battered but of the batterer as well, and, just as important, the commitment of those who work to end violence inflicted on the young.

The plot is not complicated but the problems of the characters are complex. Music may not be the panacea for all their pains but it helps that music, through singing, is very much part of their healing program. Onyok, who does not sing, is a special case. He accidentally finds a hiding place in the violinist's own hideaway. The initial encounter is tense but both soon discover the music in each other, and also the pain.

It matters a lot that the two lead but neophyte actors are musicians. In real life, Coke is a noted concert violinist and Julian is a budding musical talent under Coke's tutelage. So it is quite credible that, in the movie, the boy would be playing difficult pieces after one year. Onyok happens to be a prodigy in the making and his discoverer knows this. Ariel tutors him on Bartok, Mozart, Haydn.

There are other subplots in the shelter that make the movie engrossing, and there are issues with the boy's batterer who himself undergoes rehab. Veteran actor Ricky Davao as Onyok's contrite father Marcelo almost steals the show toward the end.

(The big Ibong Adarna Theater was packed and the audience reacted warmly, tearfully, and during one suspenseful moment, loudly, as if they were watching a Pacquiao fight.)

Then a cathartic moment happens, not in the music room, but on a beach where there is only the sound of the waves folding and unfolding.

A year passes. On a makeshift stage under the mango trees, with only a cellist and pianist assisting, teacher and pupil play together in a violin recital. The lush surroundings reverberate with a happy Vivaldi opus. It didn't have to be Mozart.

On another note, why the "Mozart Effect"? Research has shown that Mozart's music, more than any other, "invariably calmed listeners, improved spatial perception, and allowed them to express themselves more clearly--communicating with both heart and mind... Clearly, the rhythms, melodies, and high frequencies of Mozart's music stimulate and charge the creative and motivational regions of the brain." This is proven by compelling accounts. Campbell's book is about Mozart and beyond--how music heals and why.

Whether it is Lucio San Pedro's melody for Levi Celerio's "Sa Ugoy ng Duyan" or Beethoven's "Ninth" or the Trappists chanting Gregorian, music soaks the soul with its power.

Music Therapy for the Soul with Jesuit Fr. Manoling Francisco (whose compositions are liturgical staples) on Oct. 10 at the Ateneo. Call Cefam, Tel. No. 4264289 to 92.