One cannot help compare Smaller and Smaller Circles with the recent adaptation of the Murder on the Orient Express. Both come from acclaimed mystery novels. Murder on the Orient Express has been re-interpreted several times on stage, radio, television and film. It features the diminutive and self-centered Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot. There have been several actors who have played Poirot my favorite so far are David Suchet and Albert Finney. It goes without saying that I like their take on the novel Murder on the Orient Express. The story development is more straightforward and the tension building more effective. To quote Poirot, “ It exercises zee little grey cells”. The recent iteration of Agatha Christie’s novel pales to Finnery’s film and Suchet’s tv film. Something was not right perhaps it was that mustache or was the unnecessary action sequence that had done it in. It was thus a relief to have watched Smaller and Smaller Circles a fortnight after.
On Smaller and Smaller Circles the Film
The film is based on the multi-awarded novel by F.H. Batacan. and is directed by Raya Martin. As we enter this mystery story circa 1999 we are introduced to the sleuths both are Jesuit Priests Father Lucero a forensic anthropologist and Father Lucero a psychologist. Both are consultants of the National Bureau of Investigation who discovers a series of mutilated bodies in the Payatas Garbage Dump. We accompany the two as they solve this serial murder mysteries and along way encounters other stories— some linked and some not — on corruption, politics, academic life, journalistic and scandals in the Philippines circa 1999.
The casting is perfect and not one of the cast is wasted. In a number of mystery film the trick is to have a number of suspects perhaps this is why you will see a legion of well known actors on or a legion of fresh faces on the screen. In this film the actors are all equally balanced that there is no obvious suspect. The dialogue is predominantly in English but this is probably because the source is in English and it actually builds the credibility of the sleuth as academics from Ateneo University.
The film also does not preach rather it shows most of the time. There was one instance when it tried to but fortunately it was only a few seconds and could easily be excised from memory.
in many ways the film is a good old fashioned mystery film like Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose or the past adaptations of Murder on the Orient Express. The film viewer travels with our sleuths — sees what they see and know what they know. Like a good mystery does. And the final scene paired with the chorus seems to be the only way to end the film satisfactory.
This film will most likely entice its film viewers to read Batacan’s book.
Smaller and Smaller Circle will be one of the Philippines classic film. It would be a waste for film goers not to watch it.