UNBOX RATING: 4/5
There’s a lot to be said about Thy Womb. Sure it was able to grab 5 major awards from this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) – including Best Director, Best Actress and Best Original Story; sure it won international recognition particularly in the recent Venice International Film Fest and sure critics loved the film, but is it a film that the Filipino People are ready for? Well, the answer to that is “it depends”.
Thy Womb, directed by internationally-acclaimed director, Brilliante Ma Mendoza (Captive, Serbis, Masahista), isn’t a film that’s easy to swallow even if the story is relatively simple. One of the more interesting choices this MMFF, Thy Womb only works if you allow it to work. That means you have to be open to watching something different, something that, maybe, you’re not accustomed to; something that is devoid of the typical Hollywood formula, devoid of cheesy one-liners and devoid of sub-par acting and characterizations. If you’re ready for all of that then you may have the movie affect you in ways you aren’t expecting to.
Thy Womb opens up to picturesque Tawi-Tawi in southern Mindanao and centers on Shaleha (Aunor) a Badjao mid-wife and her husband Bangas-an (Bembol Roco) going about their daily routine. Aside from assisting in births, Shaleha is your typical submissive wife. She goes about her day helping Bangas-an in fishing, weaving and other household needs–the perfect partner for one to have except that she’s also barren. This then becomes her silent struggling point in all of this. Being the dutiful wife, she tries to remedy this by going as extreme as finding another wife (Lovi Poe) for her husband in the off-chance that he might have an heir through her. And this plot point might actually be more melodramatic than it sounds but the film undermines it so much so that the story doesn’t really progress much until about two-thirds into the film. In those two-thirds we are introduced to the rich culture, values and setting of the Badjao populace intimately. If you have the patience for it, it is nothing short of brilliant!
The film forces you to slow down. Even in how you take in information. Rituals, marriages, feasts, blessings, and the daily life grind are magnificently captured through Brilliante Mendoza’s lens. Though I must admit the first 15 minutes of the film sort of made me sea sick. The tracking shots aren’t as clean as I’d like them to be but if you can sit through movies like Cloverfield, District 9, the Blair Witch Project or any hand-held camera movie then you can get through this easy. It’s really just the first 15 minutes that gets you nauseous a bit if you’re not accustomed to jerky handheld camera movements.
But technicality aside, the real gem of Thy Womb would be the acting prowess of screen veterans Ms. Nora Aunor and Bembol Roco. The subtle tension that silently tightens its chords as the movie progress gives Thy Womb its dramatic heart. Amid the budding festivities and colorful cultural fanfare is the story of a wife truly and blindly devoted to fulfill her role in society and to her husband. Aunor does this without the usual drama that most movie demands. Instead, she does this effectively by being silent and stubbornly submissive even until the film’s last frame ends.
The film revels in the small details; the unspoken screams that are too deafening to be heard but eats at your core; the tear that never fell but was kept in, wallowed and forever remained – that is the beauty that Nora Aunor delivers with the care and guidance of Direk Dante. I honestly cannot find any words to truly express how I felt after watching the film. All I have now, really, is gratitude. And although I know that this film won’t be appreciated by a lot of people, I truly hope that one day it will.
Thy Womb stars Nora Aunor, Bembol Roco, Lovi Poe and Mercedes Cabral. It is produced by Center Stage Productions, and the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), Melvin Mangada and Jaime Santiago, the film is written by Henry Burgos and directed by 2009 Cannes Film Festival Best Director Brillante Mendoza. The film is one of the 8 official entries to the 2012 Metro Manila Film Festival. (From Wikipedia)