Book-to-film adaptations are tricky business. A lot of different expectations are often set on the end product, based on all the varied individual interpretations of the source material. These expectations tend to be abstract—as in, people want the film to feel the same or similar to the book—and thus difficult to live up to.
That’s why F.H. Batacan, the author of Smaller and Smaller Circles, curated a playlist for director Raya Martin to consider for inspiration as he brought the story to the silver screen. It’s a mix of classical and contemporary songs—a sonic distillation of the story, its themes, its characters, its setting, and its milieu—and as an entire playlist, it served as a bridge between the book and the film.
Have a listen:
Batacan herself had this to say about the playlist and how it expresses Smaller and Smaller Circles:
"In the book, and the short stories in the same 'universe', Saenz is a classical guitarist. It's something of myself that I gave to him; my first true passion.
My mother was an announcer and programme director for a couple of classical music stations, and she had an encyclopedic knowledge of music.
So most of the items on the list are selections that I grew up with, in a Cubao apartment filled with vinyl and cassettes, and eventually learned to play or sing or both.
And they kind of reflect Saenz's inner life, as well as the ebbs and flows of the story itself. You listen to 'Gretchen am Spinnrade' for example—the hypnotic 'spinning wheel' quality of the piano accompaniment that intensifies into a kind of hysterical grief—and then read the words, and although it's about a lost love, you can also see how it might be about a mother who has lost a child."
My peace is gone,
My heart is heavy,
I will find it never
and never more.
Where I do not have him,
That is the grave,
The whole world
Is bitter to me.
"Listen too to 'L'invitation au Voyage' by Duparc, with its eerie lyricism and its words of temptation and allure, and through a distorted lens I saw it as a kind of invitation to danger and death. Same with the Chanson de Solveig sung by the little boys—you get the sense of innocence imperiled—which I feel Raya has mirrored wonderfully with the music of the Loboc Children's Choir.
I've always seen Saenz and Lucero as essentially solitary men who are solitary in their own ways, and who find in each other permission to be solitary men, who live a great deal inside their own heads. So there are selections in this list that speak to this fundamental solitude—the Cello Suite in D minor, the Barrios Choro, the Villa-Lobos. Yet they are also men who are compelled to put muscle to faith, so there are the songs that speak to that maverick streak, that wildness and questioning—the more contemporary ones like 'Crush with Eyeliner' and 'Dear God'.
When Raya and I first started talking about music, he said he wanted some kind of dialogue in aesthetics as he was beginning the filming process. I hope this was all useful to him somehow. I think music is a fine way to get inside someone's head, although as I write this I realize—that head was probably mine."
Catch Smaller and Smaller Circles when it comes out in theaters nationwide on Thursday, December 6.