38th MMFF: Thy Womb

1:55 am PHT

I was a bit disappointed with last year’s crop of Metro Manila Film Festival entries. Among the eight films, I only had interest in watching three: Thy Womb, El Presidente, and Sisterakas (in decreasing order of preference). Thy Womb received numerous accolades at foreign film festivals and that’s the main reason why I was interested in this Brillante Mendoza–directed piece. And since Thy Womb was threatened to be pulled out of theaters due to poor performance at the box office, that was the first film I saw.

Thy Womb tells the story of Shaleha (Nora Aunor), the wife of Bangas-An (Bembol Roco). They are a Badjao couple living in Tawi-Tawi, the southernmost province of the Philippines. She works as a midwife but ironically is not able to produce any offspring for his husband due to her infertility. She finally agrees to let Bangas-An take a second wife and most of the film is spent depicting the couple’s search for a bride.

So what did I think of the movie? The one word I would use to describe it is educational. The movie had no overarching plot and I daresay is a slice-of-life kind of film. There was hardly any conflict or climax and I found the post-climax scenes quite abrupt especially when compared to leisure pace of the rest of the film. So I wasn’t particularly impressed with the film as a storytelling vehicle, but I was very fascinated with its depiction of Badjao life and culture.

Living in cosmopolitan Manila and being connected everyday to the Internet, I found the contrast with Badjao culture enlightening. I’m sure Direk Mendoza did plenty of research for this film and seeing the lives of our Muslim brothers in the south was very educational. People in Tawi-Tawi live with bandits, insurgents, and the military the same way people in Metro Manila deal with traffic jams. I was also a bit surprised that they still practice arranged marriages there and that it is the groom that pays the bride’s dowry. There was also a lovely episode in the film depicting a Badjao marriage and reception (with Mercedes Cabral as the bride). While Thy Womb placed dead last in the box office among the MMFF films, I feel that the film would be better served by including it as required viewing in the Araling Panlipunan (Social Studies) subject in high school.

Brillante Mendoza lamented how foreigners loved the film, but Filipinos are not supporting it. Well, having seen Thy Womb, I have no doubt that the film can be popular in the international film festival circuit. However, I think that the the average Filipino and also mainstream foreign audience would find the movie quite boring. So I don’t fully agree with Mendoza’s statement that the foreigners love the film. The most financially successful films are the ones that provide entertainment and sadly, Thy Womb is not that kind of film.

P.S. I have two additional quibbles with Thy Womb. First, as a Filipino, I find the Tagalog dialogues from the non-Badjao actors a bit jarring, especially when they are answered back in Tausug. But to foreigners, it’s all Greek to them so they would not be really distracted by it. Second, I really find it implausible to see Lovi Poe as the Bangas-an’s second wife (not really a spoiler). She’s far too pretty for such a role.

P.P.S. Jessica Zafra’s review is a good read.

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