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Friday, December 28, 2012

Nora Aunor Saves THY WOMB (Sa Iyong Sinapupunan) -- THY WOMB Movie Review


A few months ago, I was not happy when I learned that Studio 5 (Lola Basyang) backed out from this year's 2012 Metro Manila Film Festival.  If the plan was to use original Lola Basyang stories, I would have supported the film.  But thank goodness, MMFF organizers announced its replacement THY WOMB (Sa Iyong Sinapupunan) and I can't help but get excited about seeing the movie!

When I saw Brillante Mendoza and the cast in a news report showing how they were well received in Venice Film Festival and the movie trailer, I just knew another gem in Philippine cinema has been produced.

THY WOMB is the story of Badjao midwife Shaleha (Nora Aunor) and her husband Bangas-An (Bembol Roco) in Tawi-Tawi.  Shaleha and her husband live a simple life but she struggles to cope with the irony of her own infertility.  In order to make her husband happy, they started the search for Bangas-An's second wife who can give them a child.  Directed by award-winning film maker Brillante Mendoza, the film also stars Lovi Poe as Mersila and Mercedes Cabral as Aisha.

Two days ago, I posted on TaDi's FB page (www.facebook.com/digitista) my priority movies for MMFF 2012.  THY WOMB is first in the list, and I watched it yesterday.  Lining up was not a problem because there were many seats available for the film (sad to say).  

After a barrage of Hollywood movie trailers, everyone in the audience got excited as soon as the film's OBB started.  And then the first frames were a bit unimpressive.  I even heard women movie goers at my back saying "Nakakahilo! (I'm getting dizzy watching the scene)".  But then, I hoped it was just the first scene and I expected to be really satisfied.

Unfortunately it's the opposite.  Please don't get me wrong.  I rallied for this film but I was just not fully satisfied with what I witnessed.  Why?

Cinematography is bad.  There are too much inconsistencies in terms of quality, color and composition.  There were just a number of unpolished frames and scenes especially on outdoor and establishing shots, and rain scenes.   I guess the cinematographer had a hard time shooting from a boat?  

But to be fair, there were also several beautifully captured scenes that mesmerized the audience (e.g. Shaleha and Bangas-an on boat and about to go home, the whale shark scene).  Scenes at the community though were well photographed.  

And sometimes, the scene is just a dialogue between two characters, but I can notice the shake of the camera.  If it's a running or walking scene, I would have understood why there are some noticeable camera movements. But as said, it's not.  And the shake or movement is quite annoying.  

And then I think there's a problem on the screenplay.  Again, don't get me wrong.  I in fact appreciated the time spent on showing the Badjao culture and tradition.  It was a feast for the eyes and food for the mind.  I felt proud seeing one of our country's most colorful indigenous traditions.  However, I think the story dwelled too much on the backdrop / setting that the writer forgot to focus and substantiate the main plot.  I support the  showing of the Badjao culture and tradition but not to the extent that the film will become some sort of a travelogue.  Focus!  I would have appreciated if they have shown more the struggle of the couple to have a child in their house and the challenges that Shaleha faced with her life's irony.  

And then, they showed some snapshots of social problems like fish kill, terrorism and militarization, the usual formula of the so-called "socially relevant" films.  It was planted but it was never played up, never talked about.  They just showed that the community suffers from these problems (to show social relevance?).  But for me, it's not really needed.  The problem with telling too many things is you'll end up telling nothing. 

The wedding scene is fabulous.  I couldn't be more proud seeing that wonderful and colorful tradition.  But I wonder why that scene was not used for the wedding of Bangas-an and his second wife.  It was the wedding of the couple's friends (I guess to weave in and show this colorful Badjao tradition).  But don't you think it would be more logical, cinematic and climactic if that was used for the main characters?  Direk Brillante should have used that part to show Shaleha's sacrifice. I was waiting for a similar scene for the wedding of Bangas-an and his second wife but the movie just showed the cultural wedding dance and then cut to Lovi's giving birth scene.   

When the wedding offering between Bangas-an and his second wife happened, I already felt the intensity of the film.  I was eager to see more.  Scenes after that were fabulous!  But they were just a few scenes.  Direk Brillante Mendoza didn't maximize this part of the movie where he could really show the conflict, express the emotion and how the characters processed resolving the challenges in their lives.  And then it was ended abruptly. 

If there's a saving grace for the film, that would be Nora Aunor, the Production Design and Musical Score.  They are the reasons why I was glued to every scene.  Nora Aunor was brilliant!  No wonder why she is hailed as the greatest Filipino actress of all time.  Before, I make fun when people say "Mata pa lang ni Nora, nangungusap na. (Nora's eyes can already express the emotion.).  But it's indeed true!  There were no hysterical moments but Nora Aunor was able to convey the right emotion, deliver the right attack in every scene.  She was so natural, she was so real.  Her acting moved me many times.  So she rightfully deserves the Best Actress award. I know she won too many already, but what can we do?  She's just so excellent!  (Bembol Roco's crying scene is commendable!  Lovi Poe on the other hand had a hard time acting in the scene where she's giving birth.)

I also love the Musical Score!  It perfectly suits every scene where its put.  Production Design is both realistic and majestic.  It perfectly captured the real situation (the poverty and the simplicity of life) in the Badjao community in Tawi-Tawi and at the same time showed our glorious heritage through the presentation of the Badjao customs and tradition.  

I had high expectations but I'm somehow dissatisfied because I know the story, the movie, can do better.  It has really a great potential to be a monumental film.  Anyway, it's not bad at all.  THY WOMB may be unpolished in some parts but it's still worth seeing.  It's an eye opener, it's a bridge to our cultural differences.  We rarely see films like this so I suggest we spend our money wisely, we experience this movie.

From a scale of 1 to 10 claps, I'm giving THY WOMB a big 7, plus an honorable salute!

THY WOMB is now showing and is still being exhibited at the current MMFF 2012 run (as it should be!).  


  1. Nora Aunor. Need we say more?

  2. Thanks for the enlightening review of Thy Womb.

  3. The camera in Brillante Mendoza's films are normally hand-held to give the audience that documentary film experience. It's just as if a real event is unfolding before our very eyes and the camera is simply following it. This is a blurring of fiction and realism.

    The movie is not plot oriented but focuses more on little details that happen in the people's every day lives. Real life does not unfold in a clear cut manner and with emotional highlights here and there. It's more mundane than that and that is what the movie, I think, tries to capture.

    It is not an easy film to watch just like other Brillante Mendoza films (try Serbis whose plot is much thinner). The director is confronting the audience by showing us that story telling comes in different forms and trajectories. Just my two cents. -- john

  4. Thanks Anonymous 1 and 2! :)

    Hi Anonymous 3 (John)! Thanks for sharing your views as well. My blog welcomes such sensible discussion.

    I understand where you're coming from, especially on the cinematography. I in fact I also appreciate such treatment (hand-held camera) but my point on this is if this is the style Direk Brillante wanted to use in the film, then there should have been some form of consistency. What I noticed was there were also many scenes that are not shot through hand-held camera, and there are some which you can feel the camera movement. In this regard, I think he should have chosen one treatment to use, and he should have sticked to it. Upon seeing the final material, I felt like the movie's "documentary film experience" is not intentional, but accidental.

    For the story, what you just mentioned is also possible. However, I believe the movie should have given focus as well on the plot as it's basically a character oriented movie (Shaleha and Bangas-An). If the movie wanted to show "only" the little details of people's everyday life, then I think this is not the right material. In my review, I said it's ok to put these details (and I really love seeing them) but he should have given proper emphasis as well on the plot / characters.

    That's my own POV. Some may disagree but I stand by what I said. I still support the film though, it's among the better films this MMFF 2012. In fact, I believe it should have won the 2nd Best Picture at least (with El Presidente as Best Picture). But that's the MMFF. They usually make the wrong decisions. :)


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