Thanks to Melvin Mangada, I had the privilege to see a private viewing with friends of ‘Thy’ Womb’ last October 12.
I was fever pitched while waiting for the small theater to dim its lights and see this critically acclaimed film opus of Brillante Mendoza and Nora Aunor. I didn’t even had the appetite for the big pack of crackers given us; I was too excited.
The film begins with the sound and image of water, thereby telling you that this is a story set in waterworld, with all the natural feel as it could get. I won’t attempt to summarize the entire film (no spoiler, please), nor describe the plot since much has been said and written about it in past reviews here and abroad. It would suffice to say that “Thy Womb” is an intellectual film, and on that note, it is not for everyone.
Majority of our local audience chooses to make box office hits movies that have the “kilig” (love story), “kabit” (mistress affairs), and “kakatawanan” (comic) themes. In ‘Thy Womb’, you will be led into a quiet storytelling about Shaleha, a barren midwife in an obscure Badjao community in Tawi-Tawi (in Mindanao, southern Philippines) and her quest to find another woman with whom her husband, Bangas-an could have a child. And as noted by its producers, the film indeed has no script – in fact, it is a quiet film pierced with dialogues.
Quiet but moving
The story unfolds not so much through words but with powerful symbolisms and the brilliant acting of its lead character, Nora Aunor. While Brillante Mendoza has wielded his unconventional directing style to make this film another masterpiece, Nora Aunor immortalizes on this film her brand of underacting. In fact, she redefines it here. No wonder, the Italian film critics and audience adulated her with “Bravissima!”
Consider a few instances in the film where Nora shows complex feelings of sorrow and gratitude, longing and frustration, love and loss without having to utter a single word, but with those eyes, oh, those eyes piercing right through your heart. Her glance at the crescent moon, at the flight of birds, and towards Allah in heartfelt prayer, and those downcast eyes in the face of embarrassment, you know she is telling you more than you can hear in dialogue, and right at that moment you understand. This is what makes ‘Thy Womb’ a moving story.
Revelations and realizations
Metro Manilans have experienced seeing “Badjaos” going up jeepneys and buses to beg with their soiled clothes and hungry children. They have become eyesores to many.
But the film ‘Thy Womb’ brings us to a ‘metanoia’, a change of heart. We discover that Badjaos work hard for their families, and their deeply rooted faith in Allah lead them into peaceful and simple lives, and in the case of Shaleha, into unconditional love.
The film is also a showcase of ethno-cultural diversity and of ecology. A highlight of the film is the portrayal of the rituals for a traditional Badjao wedding rite, but another enigmatic scene in the film was when Shaleha and Bangas-an took shelter in a tattered and abandoned Catholic chapel during a heavy downpour. Shaleha, though a Muslim, felt sorry for the place and with her gamut of emotions tells you that Christians and Muslims should and could live in harmony. Moreover, the audience is treated to an impressive photography of the natural environment of Tawi-Tawi – the pristine blue sea, the mountains, and the whale sharks, among others.
Above all, the film is a celebration of life and unconditional love: The quest to find a mother for Bangas-an’s child to obtain Allah’s full blessings and the hardwork and sacrifices that Shaleha and Bangas-an had to make, give the film its redemptive value. For although the story ends with tragedy of love lost, it leaves the audience so much thought for reflection and realization to value life, faith, and love. “Tahimik nyang kukurutin ang puso mo” (It shall quietly grip your heart). And that is the power of the film.