A scene from "Thy Womb"
MANILA, Philippines - Brillante Mendoza’s latest, "Sinapupunan" ("Thy Womb"), has garnered international awards for the director and lead actress, Nora Aunor.
Coming on the heels of "Captive" and the film he first garnered notices for, "Kinatay," the new film marks a departure for Mendoza, for gone is the harrowing violence of his earlier films; and instead, we find an almost lyrical, ethnographic type of film.
The cinematography is a lush spectacle of sea, open vistas and the inherent poetry of fishing villages around Tawi-Tawi, Mindanao. And the quiet, almost sedate drama that surrounds life in these fishing villages, is what the film concentrates its plotline on.
Shaleha (Aunor) is married to a struggling fisherman, Bangas-An (Bembol Roco), and being barren, this infertility leads her to find a second wife for her husband, in the hope that the family will now be blessed with a child. The sedate action of the film revolves around the search for this second wife, who, towards the last quarter of the film, comes in the form of Mersila (Lovi Poe).
The irony of Shaleha serving as the local midwife for the delivery of the women in the village is another point chalked up to her column of self-sacrifice in the name of her husband’s happiness. And when in a private conversation between Bangas-An and Mersila, it is revealed that a condition of the dowry is that when Mersila gives birth, Shaleha will be forced to leave the “home,” the cards are firmly stacked against Aunor’s first wife character.
But what makes for the bulk of this film is the painstaking examination of life in these fishing villages. The Muslim pomp and ceremony is shown in full color when friends of the couple marry. The play between Christianity and the Muslim faith is alluded to when the couple takes refuge from the rain in an abandoned village church.
That gunfire and the military weaved into the village’s everyday life are also captured on film, leading me to privately joke, that they may have been refugees from Mendoza’s earlier film, "Captive."
While there’s poignancy in the manner this film ends, if I have to criticize the film, it would be to say that not enough is made of the pregnant drama (Yes, pun intended) that arrives when the young wife enters the scene.
At the start, far too much film time is spent on the ethnographic elements of the film, which while fascinating, lack true film drama. Very European in terms of film development, this one is for the patient moviegoer.
For the patient, the reward is great, but it may too tranquil for some.