By Heinrich Domingo
In the eyes of Brillante Mendoza, we see realism. Painted at the backdrop of his films (Serbis, Kaleldo, Kinatay, and others) is the grim reality of the Philippines. In this 2014 movie, he looks into the seldom discussed topics of childbirth, Islamic polygyny, and women. Through an ensemble of outstanding cast, he focuses his camera to the Badjao people living in the southernmost part of the country and their women’s survival in a Muslim community.
A Badjao midwife named Shaleha (played Nora Aunor) feels guilty for not bearing a child. While she delivers babies in her village, the pressure builds on her to make her husband (Bembol Roco) happy. To cope with the situation, she decided to look for his second wife (beings Muslims, the practice is acceptable). As she searches in nearby islands, she eventually found the perfect girl. But, little does she know that this girl requires more than an expensive dowry. She is asking for something that even Shaleya might not provide.
In the laws of Islam, women are differently defined as men. Such rules are based on their holy book Qur’an. In the progress of time, it becomes interesting to look at how women continue to follow these long-held traditions while recognizing that they are more empowered by modern laws. Thy Womb chronicled the feat of an indigenous woman and her tale towards fulfilling her self-definition of being a woman (a child-bearer).
This film presented the power play between men and women in the Badjao community. Although Shaleha defines the course of her and her husband’s life (from their livelihood to choosing the jewelries for dowry), she ends up succumbing to his wants. This makes the audience think twice on how power is shared at home. Despite valuable contributions of Filipinas in the country, why are there still hundreds of girls raped simply because they’re women? Despite the constitution’s recognition on the ability of women, why do we have a low number of elected women officials? Despite the country’s adoration to the Blessed Virgin Mary, why does the church impede the passing of laws on maternal health care?
Thy Womb’s subtle messages were embodied by outstanding performance of Nora Aunor, Lovie Poe, and Mercedes Cabral. Their acting was supplemented with Bembol Roco’s commendable performance. Through their acts, the unfamiliar Catholic crowd became more comfortable in following the narrative.
The difficulty to shoot the harsh sea and seaside environments made the film more appealing. Mendoza’s signature camera movement through the works of Odessy Flores (the same cinematographer of Kinatay) created a personal feel to the audience. The viewing crowd felt like being involved with the characters’ journey.
Although the screenplay can be improved, the film will always be remembered by Filipino cinephiles. More than introducing a seldom discussed world of Muslims and Badjaos, it offered an unfamiliar struggle of women. It allowed us to expand our notion on women advocacies.
Thy Womb can be watched on iflix. Avail of their monthly or annual plans now and tell them we sent you!