MANILA, Philippines - I was not a big fan of Brillante Mendoza's earlier works. But the last two films — Captive with French actress Isabelle Huppert and Thy Womb with Nora Aunor (both competed in film festivals abroad and won) — piqued an admiration for his talent.
I attended the screening of Thy Womb that Mendoza conducted for the press at his Centerstage Productions Inc office recently, and found a truly moving movie, to say the least.
Thy Womb (Sinapupunan) is about a childless couple living in the heart of Tawi-Tawi, Mindanao. Though the setting was not Mendoza's original choice, when he visited the place during an ocular inspection, he immediately fell in love with it and the community of Badjaos living in it.
The film successfully captures the beauty of a place that is probably not well known to and explored by other Filipinos.
Its cinematography is an aspect that people should watch out for as opposed to the other commercially-driven flicks that are also in the upcoming Metro Manila Film Festival. Brillante is indeed a master with his manipulation of the camera lens — presenting a story about a place most Filipinos have not thought of visiting because of misconceptions.
The Badjaos, an indigenous ethnic group dubbed "sea gypsies" for their seaborne lifestyle, are a peace-loving people. It is in the middle of the Badjao community that the story of Thy Womb unfolds: A woman marries a man for whom she is willing to do everything — just to make him happy, even to the extent that she allows him to have a second wife (culturally allowed in their community).
Nora Aunor as Shaleha perfectly plays the role of a barren wife to Bembol Roco’s Bang-Asan.
Only an actress of Aunor's caliber can pull off the struggles of an infertile wife who also has to be the midwife to Mersila (Lovi Poe), Bang-Asan's second wife.
The scene where she carries the newborn baby is moving. If only for this scene alone, there is no doubt that Nora Aunor is the top contender for the MMFF Best Actress trophy.
As a storyteller, Brillante is always clever with using metaphors. Thy Womb has several heart-wrenching scenes featuring the finest talents in Philippine cinema, including the beautiful Mercedes Cabral in a cameo role.
While the plot’s development is a bit dragging, as soon as it hits the high notes with its dramatic parts, it successfully sustains the momentum, keeping the moviegoers glued until the heart-breaking end.