REVIEW | Thy Womb (2012)



Brillante Mendoza doesn't allow fame to get to him. After beating Ang Lee, Quentin Tarantino and Lars von Trier as Best Director at the 62nd Cannes Film Fest in 2009, he remains to be down-to-earth and all the more passionate about his art. And it seems like he can only achieve personal success if the Filipino people, his own race—especially the mainstream-stubborn ones—can finally appreciate his films.

That is his primary concern with his latest work Thy Womb (Sa Iyong Sinapupunan), starring the legendary Nora Aunor, and which won him the La Navicella at the recently concluded Venice Film Festival, that the Filipino audience give it a chance. To highly consider alternative cinema. 

In Thy Womb, Mendoza takes us to the southernmost part of Tawi-Tawi, in glorious high definition seascapes that meet the boundless sky—a panorama reminiscent of the trailer of Ang Lee's Life of Pi. Zoom in closer and you see a dilapidated water village. Shanties balanced on stilts in the middle of nowhere.  Zoom in much closer and you see the people in their colorful Muslim garments. And that's where Mendoza intends to immerse you. In the rich and exotic Muslim culture.  Zoom in much, much closer and he centers you on Shaleha (Nora Aunor), a selfless, infertile midwife, who searches the island for an additional wife for her fisherman husband Bangas-An (Bembol Roco) that would bear him a child for their household.



In this ethnographic drama, the narrative is thin, the dialogue very minimal and naturalistic, as with most of Mendoza's previous works, with bursts of unscripted voice and reaction. The movie simply—and literally—follows Shaleha and Bangas-An in their life in the village, drawing you into their caring, respectful and patient relationship, and taking you along in their mutual goal to find a child-bearing wife, all in stunning and poetic visuals. 

Mendoza gifts you with a visual feast and an exotic cultural experience. Sweeping you away and setting you loose in the midst of colorful Muslim wear and the unrecorded singing voice of the Badjaos, and their perfunctory mat-weaving. He also presents you with contrasting  imagery: the opulent wedding feasts against the prevalent poverty in the island; sporadic signs of violence among an otherwise gentle and generous people. But the real drama is behind Bangas-An and Shaleha's quiet and deliberate movements.

Lovi Poe as a prospective wife.

The entire cast deliver impressive performances, but it's Nora Aunor's performance, which won her the Bisato d'Oro Award in the 69th Venice Film Fest, that was the most potent and captivating; her presence strong, her eyes and subtle expressions speak volumes, holding your rapt attention, all complemented by Bembol Roco's equally natural and believable performance. 

Mendoza is a passionate filmmaker. A real artist. He paints stories with hyperreal and surreal strokes. And he's a poet, depicting realities with his visual metaphors  And he's an advocate. He wants to expose you to places and events that you can only speculate about, delivering facts but also incorporating symbols to give you your own personal interpretation.

It may not be soul-stirring, but Thy Womb, which received a 5-minute standing ovation in Venice, is  still absorbing. An important movie to watch.  A poetic and romantic work of art. It will give the Filipino audience a foreign experience in our own land, and will provide marital drama that will intrigue even the most mainstream-loving audience.

Also starring Lovi Poe and Mercedes Cabral


3.5 out of 5 stars

In Philippine Theaters on December 25th, 2012 
Official entry to the 2012 Metro Manila Film Festival



The official poster.

Awards and Recognition:

69th Venice International Film Festival (2012)
In Competition, Venezia69
La Navicella / Venezia Cinema Prize
P. NazarenoTaddei Award - Special Mention
Bisato d' Oro Award (for lead actress for Nora Aunor)



Toronto International Film Festival 2012
Official Selection


Busan International Film Festival 2012

Official Selection



Asia Pacific Screen Awards 2012

Best Director, Brillante Ma Mendoza

Best Actress, Nora Aunor

55th Asia Pacific Film Festival (2012)
Nominated for Best Director, Brillante Ma Mendoza
Nominated for Best Actress, Nora Aunor

Dubai International Film Festival 2012
In Competition



Comments

Anonymous said…
Is this the reason why you gave it only 3.5 stars?

"the narrative is thin, the dialogue very minimal and naturalistic, as with most of Mendoza's previous works, with bursts of unscripted voice and reaction. The movie simply—and literally—follows Shaleha and Bangas-An in their life in the village, drawing you into their caring, respectful and patient relationship, and taking you along in their mutual goal to find a child-bearing wife, all in stunning and poetic visuals."

Why only 3.5? Please elaborate.
Stephanie Mayo said…
Not exactly that. I like Direk Dante's style. He is an inspiration to me, as an aspiring filmmaker.

THY WOMB, however, is not that soul-stirring for me. It is poetic, romantic, and the imagery is stunning, and I loved the cultural immersion. It's just that my soul wasn't...stirred. It lacks the strong impact that makes a movie great and resonant. Perhaps it is because of the thin narrative, yes.

THY WOMB is, in all honesty, an important movie to watch. It's a refreshing, poetic experience. It may not be life-changing, but it's a memorable arthouse film. Go see it before it disappears in the cinemas.

3.5, by the way, is still a high score. If I gave it a 2.5 or below, it's not worth watching.

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