the best of asia-pacific: triple triumph for a singular performance

The Philippines' greatest performer reaffirms her world-class caliber by winning her third international award as Best Actress for her performance in 'Thy Womb' at the 7th Asian Film Awards (AFA) in Hong Kong. 

As a barren Bajau midwife coping with the cultural burden and irony of her own infertility in Brillante Mendoza's masterpiece, Ms. Nora Aunor previously won the Bisato d'Oro (Golden Eel) critics' prize at the 69th Venice International Film Festival and the 6th Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) in Brisbane, Australia. Making history as the first Filipino to win Best Actress in the three awarding ceremonies,  Aunor's world-class achievements in Brillante Mendoza's masterpiece have rendered it a breeze for the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) to count her among the awardees of the Ani ng Dangal (Harvest of Honors) at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) recently.

Aunor's performance, celebrated both by foreign and local critics, has been cited in a poll of cinema bloggers as the best of 2012 after she was honored at the 2012 Metro Mania Film Festival where Thy Womb hauled the lion's share of the major awards. It has also romped off similar honors at the Gawad Pasado, a guild of critics from the academe.

Congratulations as well to Mr. Eddie Garcia for winning Best Actor in AFA for his role as a dying gay Noranian. Both Aunor and Garcia have previously collaborated as actress-director in the classic 'Atsay' (where they won as Best Performer and Best Director at the 1977 Metro Manila Film Festival) as co-actors in Leroy Salvador's 'Tinik sa Dibdib' and Joel Lamangan's 'Bakit May Kahapon Pa?' where Aunor won Best Actress at the Gawad Urian and at the Penang International Film Festival in Malaysia. Long live, world-class thespians of the Philippines!

Click the videos below to savor La Aunor's winning moments and her royal treatment from the paparazzi at the red carpet.

Moreover, click the videos of La Aunor's previous victories at the 6th Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) in Brisbane, Australia as well as at the 69th Venice International Film Festival where she won the critics' prize for Best Actress.


FILM REVIEW: gratitude and awe for genius

THE wide expanse of the sea and the constant rain, and the vision of Brillante Ma Mendoza—these are all that is needed for great cinema to be formed. Then there is the presence of Nora Aunor, natural and artifactual, filling the spaces with her silences and silencing the spaces of doubts, pains, understanding and misunderstanding, historical and individual, with a performance that will go down in history as the ultimate in the aesthetics of reality. Or realities.

The film Thy Womb has a story that is terribly cinematic but also rare, as in ordinary. The story begins with a woman, Shaleha, a midwife, who collects the umbilical cords of the children she delivers. After each birthing, she brings the inch-long snippet from the cord now wrapped in gauze or cloth and hangs it on a wall, along with other umbilical cords of earlier births. The rope from which those birth cords hang is a tiny history of population in her community.  The collection of cords is an almost hyperbolic sign of fertility against the incapacity of Shaleha to have a child.

Shaleha has a fruitful relationship with her husband, Bangas-an. Too bountiful is the love between them that she agrees when Bangas-an suggests that they find a woman who could give them a child they could call their own. In between the quest for a wife/mother, Bangas-an and Shaleha go about their daily routine of fishing and selling what they catch. There are days when they are not able to catch any fish. There are days when Bangas-an has enough money to buy his wife a colorful shawl. Otherwise, it is a remarkably ordinary union, with the occurrence of rains and the festivities breaking the regularity of their life and the life in the island.

As with any art, portraying the stillness is as difficult as the roar, the former singular because it is the less trodden path. Mendoza’s triumphs in Thy Womb are found in the quiet, the life energies not dramatized but narrated in the majesty of their unremarkableness. The power of the film is in the tremor, barely felt but disturbing: in these geographically isolated islands, a different kind of social rules exist. How are we to like this film then?

For the Sama di laut, or Badjau (this label is more problematic when explored), nature and culture conspire to provide them an existence that is circumscribed differently than those in Luzon or the Visayas. This is the daring that we should acknowledge in the decision of Mendoza to travel to the far-flung village. Where production outfits shoot their “Mindanao” on the hills of Tanay or some beachfronts of the Visayan islands, Thy Womb, like its title, travels back to trace its umbilicus to where they were buried. And yet, this is also the challenge of the film: how an outsider illustrates the culture that is so different from his.

Here lies the significance of this film, Thy Womb: in its journey to a place of those we love to call sea gypsies, the filmmakers revisit the ethos of the place. Gone is the ethnocentric mysticism of Lamberto Avellana’s Badjao. Recall that scene in the Avellana film where a newly born infant is thrown into the sea to test if he indeed is the child of the sea. There are no scenes of those kinds in Thy Womb. What we have is the beauty of the southern seas and also the poverty of the communities. These do not make up a National Geographic vision, as some critics put it. Mendoza’s work thrives in the simple, the unglorified horizon. There are no excesses in the film. The wedding scenes are grounded in the economic realities of the land and not choreographed to satisfy a country’s tourism program. Irony and an acute feel for life’s contradictions fuel this work by Mendoza that does not rely on the facile tricks of exoticism.

Nora Aunor, it seems, has found the film to capture the maturity of her skills in a film that is multi-layered, uncompromisingly difficult, and unobtrusively political. Her Shaleha does not rise to a level that should satisfy the mob who believes that performances should be loud and then quiet and raging again for it to be called dramatic. Rather, Aunor relies on the majesty of the quotidian, the secret allure of the prosaic. As admirers of the great actor, we cannot avoid noticing the legendary intensity. Away from a major screen performance for a long time, the actor reminds us that no one in this film industry can ever portray the difficult poetry of the every day. The Tagalog/Pilipino sounds jarring at first but Nora Aunor works her magic of effacement and soon we blend with her in the populace of the communities.

These we learn from the film: Reality is not sequential, not given to harmony and partakes of drama only because some viewers recognize certain scenes. The artifice of cinema has weaned us to expect musical scores to prepare us for sad scenes, for grand orchestral notes to climb up for monumental events. Hollywood has speeded up for us, for so many years and still does, the happening each day.

Mendoza is reminding us that there is a side to realities that we have not explored yet. Thy Womb tells us truths even if they come only from one group of people we may never get to know. The film takes us to those small islands that we are convinced comprise this nation and yet never really care about.

Out there in Tawi-Tawi is a land that is open to understanding and misunderstanding. Those territories have been forgotten for what they are in their day-to-day existence, and are remembered only for the “crimes” that are perceived to have been committed against the make-believe notion that we are a nation of people under a banner of one ideology. Thy Womb is an attempt to recover that territory not for ownership, for that is colonial-minded, but for knowledge. That is, if we allow ourselves to go out of our cities and our false sense of the central, and travel to a place where cinema can be a teaching tool, an instrument from which we can learn once more that there are other Filipinos for whom the label “Filipino” may not make sense at all.

I say this because audiences feel there should be something much more in the film. Perhaps some warrant that the violence of the military and those fighting them should be articulated, explained in the context of the wars that this nation has been fighting for. Instead, what we have in Thy Womb are outbursts of gunfires amid a celebration or even an ordinary day in the marketplace. The sounds, like the rains that come perfunctorily, need not be explained. The cultural—or, if you wish, the political—happens as part of the tapestry of reality in the southern Philippines.

At the center of this tapestry are the two individuals, Bangas-an as portrayed by Bembol Roco and Shaleha in the person of Aunor. They are not leading characters but pivots in the narrative of a village where the “ought” is beyond our empathies. Would a Shaleha in that community be given to long speeches about the rights of women? Where would the rights of women reside in that place where the men hold sway over children and women?

I do not have an answer. I am thankful enough that Mendoza attempted to celebrate the integrity and candor of the people of Tawi-Tawi, or a portion of the communities there, without making them look like effigies in museums of natural history. Gratitude and awe also for Nora Aunor for leaving us with spaces with which we could work out interpretations of what happens to women who are not able to reproduce by nature but are still caught in the web of cultures in their place.

Unfortunately for the Nora Aunor aficionado, Thy Womb offers no so-called “moments,” those conjured lessons about acting regular actors are proud of. Fortunately for those who love Aunor, the film provides momentary scenes that up the ante of performances for all actors in the land—female or male, transsexual or bisexual, young or old. Already much commented upon are the shots of the face looking up the crescent moon, pain the only potency in her being. I call attention to two scenes: the one in the Catholic chapel and the other toward the end of the film.

Caught in the rain, Shaleha and Bangas-an find shelter in the eaves of an old chapel. Aunor as Shaleha turns around, walks in and inspects the artifacts of faith inside. She goes out again and holds on to the arms of her husband. In those few cautious seconds are revealed the conflicts of beliefs and the naïve helplessness of those who are caught in between religions. There is only one word for that: genius. At the end of the film, when Lovi Poe, as the second wife of Bangas-an, gives birth to their child, Aunor as the midwife lingers on holding the baby. Bangas-an calls her name to signal that she gives the baby to the mother. From Aunor then comes the ephemera of gestures and expressions so limited they become like gasps of sadness and timidity and bravery before a camera that has by this time turned invasive and relentless. I cannot tell you what happens after that except to say that reality is the only truth of this film called Thy Womb. Nora Aunor is its avatar. (TITO GENOVA VALIENTE, Business Mirror)

Postcript:  From Dr. Matthew M. Santamaria, political scientist based in the Asian Center of the University of the Philippines, came these information and facts regarding Thy Womb: “Nora’s portrayal of a childless Sama Dilaut [a.k.a. Badjao] was most poignant. The Sama treasure children so much, equating them to the completion of one’s existence [see Nimmo and Bottignolo].” Santamaria is referring to two ethnographers of the Sama ethnic groups. He continues: “The depiction of Sitangkai as a water village confronted by insecurity due to piracy is very realistic, as Bajau informants reveal. The inclusion of the Sama Dilaut’s intangible cultural properties such as kulintangan titik [graduated knobbed gong ensemble] and the igal dance tradition [not to be confused with the Tausog pangalay] is truly laudable, revealing our country’s cultural wealth. The participation of holders of intangible property like Fatima Salinghati [kulintangan player], Ligaya Baruk [igal dance master], and Jaafar injahali [Kalamat or head igal djin Shaman] makes the film truly a work of intercultural creation.” Santamaria says he is most impressed with the use of “tepo” (banig mat weaving) as a visual metaphor for one’s personal struggle in sorting out entanglements in life...chaos leading to order as an individual raison d’etre. On Nora Aunor, Santamaria states: the non-sensational ending hews close to the aesthetics of realism, like Nora’s artistry, beauty unadorned.

Santamaria has gone to Sitangkai and the neighboring areas for fieldwork and research. He contributes art reviews to this newspaper.


FILM REVIEW: one of the best in one's lifetime

I must admit that my heart sank when my eyes combed the whole Cinema 11 of SM Manila and found only two souls — my friend Jerry Donato and me — watching the last screening of Thy Womb two Wednesdays ago. My heart sank all the more realizing what the people who did not troop to the cineplexes to watch this film were missing — a brilliant film that talks about who we are as a people from the experiences of a Muslim woman and the community she lives in.

Thy Womb, an unnervingly quiet film by Cannes award-winning director Brillante Ma. Mendoza, has been hailed internationally before it opened for the Metro Manila Film Festival on Dec. 25. The film does not necessitate melodramatic excesses to convey its message. Set in a quiet fishing Badjao village in Tawi-Tawi, Thy Womb posits the sincere desire of Shaleha (Nora Aunor) — a midwife who has an unusual penchant for collecting umbilical cords, which she air-dries while wrapped in a small piece of cloth — to find a second wife for her husband Bangas-An (Bembol Roco) who longs for an offspring of his own that she cannot give. She has lost all hope, being past her prime, to give her husband a child but she has not lost hope to find him another wife (Muslim law allows it, of course) who can give him the desire of his heart. With the help of a matchmaker, they find Mersila (Lovi Poe) and, with a douse of courage and the right amount of dowry, which the couple raises by receiving dole-outs from friends and even by selling the engine of their banca, a festive wedding ensues for Bangas-An and his new wife. The child Bangas-An has been waiting for finally arrives with Shaleha assisting Mersila when she gives birth.

The film is silent in its discussion of its narrative yet it explodes inside you — in your heart and mind. A woman’s worth is put to the test and the scale is kept not in the boundaries set by the director but in the intellectual and emotional capacity of the viewer to sympathize with the protagonist. Yes, your cognitive faculties will be exercised while watching Thy Womb but the barometer of your emotions will also be put to use. It’s a thinking film and Mendoza will just burst your bubble if you’re after a quick entertainment fix.  He’s not known for that. Not yet. Unless commercialism infests his wits.

You come to the theater to watch Thy Womb because you’re ready for another serving of social realism — understanding fully that reality, as always, is more potent than fantasy.

You come to the theater to watch Thy Womb because you do not want to escape, instead you want to understand yourself deeper by understanding the characters and the nuances that each one of them possesses.

You come to the theater to watch Thy Womb because you want a long and lasting impression of your culture, of your strengths and weaknesses.

You come to the theater to watch Thy Womb because you want to know, or perhaps experience, what a real and beautiful film is all about. Period. 

But let me also say that Thy Womb is not perfect as a film. It is flawed if by being flawed means Mendoza telling the story rather slowly and laboriously. But once you are already in the loop, right in the womb of the film, you will find yourself intrinsically involved instead of bored. At times, the camerawork is jarring but you also feel that it is deliberately done to really jar your senses — to emphasize a particular point, to exact a reaction from you, to involve you in the process. Sometimes some shots are dark but you begin to think it is a technique to hide Shaleha’s pain or perhaps, to camouflage her joy. Even in her moments of triumphs or travails, Shaleha always equips her persona with dignified stance.

Henry Burgos’ screenplay of Thy Womb is bare and simple. Speaking lines of the characters are scant but pithy. And one will be inclined to believe that part of the success of making this film is achieved because of the simplicity of the script and the complexity of the story.

Mendoza’s sincere and steady focus to helm this film can also be seen in the presentation of sub-stories. Conflicts are shown as Mendoza treats the viewer to a glimpse of a quiet life in the village where a rather ordinary day in the market is suddenly jolted by soldiers patrolling the area or a picturesque and peaceful day at sea being disrupted by raucous bandits. But the greater conflict of the film really lies in the heart of Shaleha.

Nora Aunor becomes Shaleha in Thy Womb. In the film, she is not the Philippine cinema’s Superstar but the Muslim wife who almost obsessively looks for the solution to realize the happiness of her husband, also played quietly disturbing by Bembol Roco. Both Nora and Bembol blend naturally well in a Badjao village as if they were born and raised in the place, as if it was the Tawi-Tawi air that they had been breathing all their life.

It will perhaps be obscene to give Nora Aunor more speaking lines in Thy Womb because what the words cannot say, her eyes, the signature La Aunor armament in the acting battleground,  telegraph to the viewers’ senses her gamut of emotions a million times. So, you feel her pain, her joy, her longing, her dignified submission to the test of circumstances not because she utters them but because her eyes allow you to see and feel those emotions in the frame. Nora proves that in the acting department, she is a legend. Hers is an understated acting that speaks volumes even in her silence, even in her sepulchral silence.

Her performance in Thy Womb earns Nora two Thursdays ago a best acting plum at the 38th Metro Manila Film Festival. Mendoza is also hailed as the festival’s best director.

In her speech, Nora said: “Kahit konti na lang ang manonood sa akin, kahit ako na magpoproduce, patuloy pa rin po akong gagawa ng makabuluhang pelikula.

Because of poor ticket sales, cinemas reportedly plan to pull out Thy Womb in the cineplexes. To this, Mendoza, who was recently recognized by the 6th Asia Pacific Screen Awards with the Achievement in Directing for the Nora Aunor-starrer, appealed to the viewers to support and watch, even endorse, his film. His appeal somehow did not end on deaf ears as Thy Womb, the last time I checked, is still showing in very, very few theaters. You begin to ask what happened to the throngs of shrieking fans of the Superstar some distant decades ago? Perhaps time caught up with many of them and, even if they love Nora Aunor, going to the theater to watch her film is probably not included in their priorities anymore. Sad truth but the Superstar is not giving up — she said she would not get tired making sensible films. If that is the case, it is about time to create new followers.

Before it’s too late, the Filipino audience must realize now that Thy Womb is one of the best Filipino films a Filipino could watch on the big screen in his lifetime. (BUM D. TENORIO JR., Philippine Star)


bow for the best

With her world-class talent, Ms. Nora Aunor is not resting on her laurels as "best actress." For her performance in Brillante Mendoza's 'Thy Womb', she made history as the first female performer of any nationality to become the critics' choice for the Bisato d'Oro (Golden Eel) prize at the 69th Venice International Film Festival--a feat validated by her victory as the first Filipino actress to win at the 6th Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) in Brisbane, Australia. 
That does not mean, however, that Aunor--ranked as the topnotcher of the Best Asian Actresses of the Decade at the 2010 Green Planet Movie Awards in Hollywood--is no longer excited about receiving another trophy in her own country. Recently, she reigned at the 38th Metro Manila Film Festival where she holds the record of being the most-awarded actress with eight wins so far.

On a roll for more honors, or so Aunor seems to be as she figures prominently in the Top 5 Movie Performances of 2012. A timeless portrayal, according to the reviewer: "Thirty years after 'Himala,' Nora Aunor gives another performance for the ages. As Shaleha, a barren Badjao wife who goes on a mission to find a woman who could and would give her beloved husband a biological child, Aunor is hypnotically still, bracingly intelligent, and devastatingly emotional, often all at once and without uttering a single word. She is, in a word, divine in what is the most hauntingly sublime piece of acting in all of Philippine cinema not only this year but in the last 30 years." 

That's hardly suprising for Mendoza, also a history-maker as the first Filipino to win as best director at the Cannes International Film Festival in 2009 as well as at the recent APSA. In the following video, the feisty but gentle filmmaker attests to Aunor's greatness even as he talks about other issues pertinent to his struggle as an independent artist out to push the borders of Philippine cinema.


FILM REVIEWS: more blessings from the bloggers

True to the thumbs-up from film critics who came and were conquered by Brillante Mendoza's 'Thy Womb,' the blogosphere continues to echo the exclamations of awe from a  selected group of bloggers who were invited to a private screening. Validating its victory at the 38th Metro Manila Film Festival where 'Thy Womb' won seven major awards, more bloggers continue to add their voices to the chorus of acclaim:

Exploring the interactions of culture and nature:  “Set in Tawi-Tawi, the Philippines’ southernmost isles which have become infamous for being torn by warring government and Muslim secessionist forces, the film valiantly avoids sensationalizing war and instead delves into the human condition of a people who have grown accustomed to military presence…indulges in its depiction both nature and culture. Mendoza does not hide his fascination, relentlessly breaking his storytelling to make way for gorgeous images of endless seascapes and colorful tradition. He takes time revelling at whale sharks under the sea, or turtles’ eggs hidden dearly beneath Tawi-Tawi’s remote beaches. He stages elaborate Muslim ceremonies and rituals. Surprisingly, the film never feels as if it is treading too closely to exoticizing its subject locale. The overt visualization of both nature and culture seems essential to Mendoza’s goals of exploring the interactions of culture and nature and the people who rely heavily on them for both sustenance and identity.

Henry Burgos’ screenplay is admirably spare. It is unafraid of being judged not by the lyricism of the words spoken by the depicted ordinary folk, but by the measured silence. It allows the couple’s relationship to simmer, to take root, to emotionally attach to the peering audience, before exposing the fissures that will unavoidably grow bigger. It masterfully orchestrates heartbreak, without any hint of artifice or machination. It gives Mendoza enough breathing room to scrutinize the world, which he does so without hardly any hesitation.

Aunor, who has been absent from Philippine cinema for several years despite being renowned as one of its living acting treasures, is the film’s beating heart. Her dutiful portrayal of Shaleha is both spontaneous and intelligent. She cleverly interacts with her surroundings, not as an actress inhabiting a role but as a human being naturally reacting to very real scenarios. When the film requires silence, she makes use of her eyes, which seamlessly hypnotize the audience to believe her character’s plight and sacrifice…” -- Lessons from the School of Inattention  (Click the link to read the full article.

Heartbreaking and haunting: Despite a considerable career and acclaimed breadth of work, Thy Womb is Mendoza’s first true masterpiece... a hauntingly poignant reflection of human devotion, tradition, desire and joyful exploration of Badjao culture, shot across gorgeous landscapes, with sensitive, yet high-tech cinematography... the film creates a world rich with visuals that draws us into the slow-paced world of barren midwife Shaleha (Nora Aunor) and her fisherman husband, Bangas-An (Bembol Roco).

Indeed, Mendoza meticulously creates the world of Tawi-Tawi for his audience... The film continues to linger at such a sedate pace, that the entrance of Mersila (Lovi Poe), instigating the brief second and final act of the film arrives with such abruptness to emotionally dislocate the audience. Mendoza proceeds to rapidly dismantle and destroy the entire world and the lives of the people he created. When the extraordinary final scene arrives, you understand why Mendoza’s camera lingered in the first act, you understand why he took his time building this rich world and in the process, making the audience invest in his reality, that when it finally shatters, it is heartbreaking cruel and haunting. You may not feel it straightaway, but as you leave the cinema, the events of the film replay in your mind, as if you were in Shaleha and Bangas-An’s marriage, making the ending that much more potent.

Nora Aunor pulls off a sublime performance of the same calibre and dedication as her previous internationally awarded roles under Lino Brocka’s directorship. Perhaps, another performance of a lifetime to add to her belt. She depicts the humble and sun-worn Shaleha with such authenticity that she completely disappears into her role. From her knife-work scaling fish to her quiet looks of hopefulness, then desolation, Nora’s quiet portrayal of Shaleha lingers with you long after the film..." -- Millie Morales (Click the link to read the full article.)

An array of emotions, a great cultural immersion: “We found ourselves deeply engrossed and taken by every detail presented in the beautifully photographed film…

Nora Aunor, who set the acting bar in Philippines cinema, did not fail to impress. Her brilliance is only heightened by the implicit performance of Bembol Roco…

‘Thy Womb’ isn't all about Nora Aunor however. While the performances were quietly powerful, the film was a feat itself. It presents a reality so fascinating and so authentic, you can almost touch it. It depicts a way of life that is as colorful as it is chaotic, simple and unjust. It feeds you with an array of emotions and right before it ends, it lets you take it all in and experience an unbearable pain…

This movie is also a great cultural immersion for the uninitiated… on our Muslim brothers and sisters and how they go about their daily lives…”Bum-Spot (Click the link to read the full article.

Above the mainstream audience: Thy Womb is a restrained quiet film as it lets the visuals do most of the talking. Small moments are lingered on even if it does not move the story forward. At times it felt like you are watching a documentary because of the film’s naturalistic vibe…

The film gives us slices of life from the regular townsfolk exchanging small talks to the local market activity to the intriguing and lavish marriage proposal rituals. But what got me the most is the way it captured how life goes on in a place that is often burdened by violence…

Aunor and Roco gave restrained but very effective performances. This film has little dialogue in it but thanks to the strength of the actors they don’t need words to show their characters’ inner pain and complex feelings. The scene when they met the future second wife for the first time is the best example how an actor can do so much without uttering a single line. It’s all in the eyes…

Admittedly, it’s a tough sell to the mainstream audience due to the way the story is told but Thy Womb presents a picture of a culture that is fascinating and is definitely worth watching…”— forg files (Click the link to read the full article.

Finding what’s lost along the way: “…Through those famed eyes of Nora Aunor and in those remaining few seconds as the camera pans towards her face, I read at once exhilaration, pride, love, sadness and complete surrender to the fate that awaits her. Then the movie ends.

I can understand why cineastes in many parts of the world trooped to see ‘Thy Womb,’ even paying good money to watch it. Or how in Venice, it received a 5-minute standing ovation… Many Filipinos might even scoff at the story, perhaps dismissing it as no longer relevant in this day and age where love, sacrifice and word of honor are nothing but words written on paper boats bobbing violently on rampaging flood waters. 

In Tawi-Tawi a Badjao midwife loves her husband unconditionally and he means the world to her that she would risk losing everything even him so that he could find fulfillment and be happy even in the arms of another woman. Too strange for your taste? In places like Tawi-Tawi where love still runs pure, it isn’t. To them it’s more personal-- simply put, it’s just their way of life. A long time ago, it used to be ours too, we just lost it somewhere along the way.”Film Fanatix (Click the link to read the full article.)

Mendoza’s best film so far:Brillante Mendoza is blessed with performers as seasoned as Nora Aunor and Bembol Roco…
If I liked her performance in ‘Bona’ because it revealed Nora Aunor’s feisty side as an obsessed fan, I liked her performance here in ‘Thy Womb’ because as much as there are painful moments, there are happy moments too—happy to see a whale shark swim with them and share the happiness with her husband and happy to receive a surprise gift from her husband, a new scarf to cover her head with for an upcoming wedding they would both attend later. For a serious topic, there are light moments where Shaleha was shown happy. And if she’s happy, it’s not enough that she would expose a hearty smile. The happiness would cross over to her eyes and they would glow. It is her performance that makes you realize that award-winning performance doesn’t always have to be based on hysterical / dramatic moments…

For a movie this good, the chances for it to stay longer for a commercial run has reached depressing levels that it makes you question whether it’s still worth it to make movies like these when you have an unappreciative audience. These films are inspired by actual events that occur in the Philippines and are obviously intended for the Philippine audience. But it’s the foreign audience that ends up appreciating this kind of films even more.
The market itself doesn’t know what does it want. It keeps demanding for quality films every opportunity it gets but whenever amazing films like this come along, they prefer flocking to the crappy mainstream offerings. I hope this bitter reality won’t discourage folks like La Aunor and Direk Mendoza from making quality films. This is Mendoza’s best film so far and the least depressing too which kills the notion that art films often talk about the filth and grime of the poverty-stricken that we live in. Go see it before your favorite cineplex would make true its threat of pulling out the film to fade into oblivion. You have no idea what your missing…Just in case you miss this film and find it hard to come across another quality film again, well, you had your chance and you screwed it. Walang sisihan.Filipinas in Showbiz (Click the link to read the full article.)


FILM REVIEWS: delight of discerning viewers

True to the full tide of critical acclaim from international and local reviewers for Thy Womb, the social network has been abuzz with awe. From Facebook, for instance, a raft of erudite analysis has been floating around the film's virtue as a work of art. Here are three samples: 

Transformative cinema, a gem of a film...

"'Thy Womb' could've been more fortunately titled, and the pacing could've been fine-tuned here and there, but it's doubtless a great film, soaked in the inks, forms and movements of our southern islands' natural splendor on one hand, and entirely committed to the task of a closely observed life on the other, braiding both rhythms into each other, as is the way of the people whose little-known story it attempts, in its own careful and admittedly limited way, to tell.  Moreover, what seemingly impedes it--the narrative oscillation, the doubleness of its vision as documentary and as drama--is revealed, in the end, to be part and parcel of its insight, as embodied in the placid greatness and numinous depth of Nora's exceptional performance: the heroism of the devoted and barren wife, her largeness of heart and self-abnegating love for her husband, is indissociable from her world, which permeates her very being, entwined as her spirit and character must be in the weft and woof her culture's ever-imperilled and resolutely enduring life. Cherished, in their innermost faith, by their gracious and compassionate God, the people of Tawi-Tawi dance in the midst of gunfire and depredation, hunger and drought, and it is very same ethos that animates the barren woman's actions, for as her own people remind her, life must be lived for others, and with hope, no matter how difficult and tight-fisted it often is. Once more, nora sears into our memory the persona she enacts into powerful art, and we cannot help but recognize, in the luminous alchemy of a face that's been softened by the rheum and chastised by the exertions of eventful age, the sadness and pain (as well as horror) of the knowledge of our own forfeited happiness, as well as the glimmerings of a stubborn joy that our own abiding faiths must urge upon us...Transformative cinema, a gem of a film. Go watch.

It's not perfect, this film. But the flaws are forgivable. And they are even possibly necessary, to confound its own claims to authenticity. What Mendoza succeeded in doing, by threading Shaleha's life so unobtrusively into the fabric of this world--the oscillation I was referring to, between the dramatic and the ethnographic--is to render inevitable her decision to be selfless: it is notable, but also entirely possible, in this kind of life. The dignity of our people, caught between inexorable forces (national and global), dancing through the minefield of abject precarity, yearning towards the consolations of tradition, seeking again and again the truth of the spirit: a story Nora tells so eloquently, using little else than the quiet scripture of her face."-- J. Neil Garcia, U.P. professor and prize-winning author

Performing the aesthetics of patience...

 "I don't really care about what people say or think about Brillante Mendoza. I admit that I haven't seen his earlier works, and after hearing the stories, I personally don't think I can muster the courage to ever watch them at all. Besides, I am never a fan of blatant, sensationalized violence.

But can I just say that 'Thy Womb' is such an impressively subtle and beautiful film? That these days, it is just very rare to encounter a sensitive, honest and delicate storytelling such as this one? That Nora Aunor becomes, not simply as a mere character, but as a complete human being before our eyes? That it is a magnificent exercise on dramaturgy and anthropological truth, making it not only as a narrative, but also as a well-researched documentary? That it contained such clever signs and foreshadowings, thus proving that a story does not only run on the course of dialogues, but continues on with the silences, the gazes, the positioning of characters, the gestures, the rituals of the hands, the reserved expressions of love, the meeting of the eyes.

And of course there are flaws. Art is done by humans after all, and not by gods. And the sooner that people will finally get this fact into their skulls, the sooner that our criticisms will become more constructive and less nit-picky. With that said, the local audience members are always disappointing for me. I dare say: it does not matter if you come from the upper or middle or lower social class. If you lack an education that emphasizes on literary inquisition, then you are left with nothing but the sparseness and mediocracy of a literal intellect. Truly, it is quite exhausting to cater to audiences who would rather settle for less.

But 'Thy Womb' refuses to bend. Because perhaps, more than pleasing the shallow pleasures of our so-called civilized audience members, it chooses to be an honest representative of the Tawi-Tawi community instead. That it chooses a subtle and reserved filmmaking approach because there is simply no other way--it is in parallel with the peaceful and modest culture of our Muslim brothers and sisters.

Oh, but if only the Filipino audience member can finally understand that patience is an aesthetic performed by no one else but s/he. If only s/he uses this facility when encountering a film, play, prose or poetry, then works such as Thy Womb can finally achieve its significance in full circle.

'Thy Womb' requires one to exercise and thus, eventually, labor one's way to beauty. Watch it when you are fully rested, and that all of your six senses are sharp and activated. If you are willing to participate in the task of patience, then perhaps you will experience what I had experienced: I was hypnotized, melded, and purged with the film's details." 
-- Jenny Logico-Cruz, cinephile

Elevating acting to its purest and powerful form... 

"The massive weight of 'Thy Womb' has been placed on Nora Aunor's shoulders--a tall and daunting order for any actress. Yet she breezed through her role with aplomb and quiet dignity--making the audience believe that she is indeed that barren midwife toiling in some faraway island in the hope of giving joy to her husband. Nora Aunor shines because she stayed in character throughout what must have been a grueling shooting process, never faltering in her role as Shaleha. In the end, she gave the audience another gift: a glimpse of her unparalleled talent as an actor. Here, Nora elevates acting into its purest form: to not call attention to oneself, or latch on to a "big" moment and display a fireworks of emotions. What she did here was to get lost in the many nuances of her character and be the flesh and blood of her director's vision. What a brave actress she is for allowing all her faculties to be used and to inject her own passion into a most challenging role. Not a movie for all, definitely. But a movie for those who find magic in the seemingly mundane. 

Nora Aunor's performance in 'Thy Womb' brings to mind the quiet but powerful acting of German actor Brigitte Mira in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 'Fear Eats The Soul.' It is about a 60-year-old cleaning lady who falls in love with a much younger man and a black at that. Mira gave a totally absorbing performance as she essayed the pain of discrimination in many forms. Nora's portrayal also has the same unobtrusive beauty as Fernanda Montenegro's beautiful acting in the Brazilian film 'Central Station' which gave her an Oscar Best Actress nomination... She was so totally unselfconscious, so natural and effortless in ‘Thy Womb,’ making her the frontrunner in all awards ceremonies this year. Mahirap pantayan ang ginawa n'ya sa ‘Thy Womb’--to convey the complexity of a woman's emotions with a minimum of dialogue. And when she does speak, her lines are so ordinary, so matter-of-factly that you will believe that she is, indeed, the suffering Shaleha. The lovemaking between Shaleha and Bangas-An has got to be the most emotionally painful cinematic coupling in the history of Philippine cinema. Bravo La Aunor!" -- Vic Sevilla, magazine editor


FILM REVIEW: the miracle of a masterpiece

Thirty years after ‘Himala’, Nora Aunor gives another miracle of a performance—at once hypnotically still, bracingly intelligent and devastatingly emotional—that’s one for the ages.

The same can be said for the film, ‘Thy Womb’, which chronicles an aging married couple’s search for a woman who can bear for the husband a child that the infertile wife cannot produce.

No, it’s not any kind of marital melodrama that’s been put on film before. (At least not in Philippine cinema.)

It’s a singular piece of work from Cannes-winning director Brillante Mendoza, who veers away from the extreme violence that usually marks his films and explores a place of gentleness, poetry, and loving kindness in this odyssey into a woman’s selfless love.

That woman is Shaleha, a Badjao midwife in Tawi-tawi who goes from one water-logged settlement on stilts to another to help other women give birth.

Ironically, she is not capable of conceiving a child that she and her husband Bangas-an (a robust Bembol Roco) could call their own, which he so desires. So she decides to do the next best thing that’s in her power to do — take it upon herself and make it her mission to find another woman for Bangas-an to sire his own child with. And not just a babymaker. Being Muslims, they would have to take her in as another wife.

It’s a very specific character that Aunor, Mendoza and writer Henry Burgos are, quite craftily, able to make universal. By highlighting Shaleha’s proactive selflessness more than the reasons and motivations for her actions, the trio makes her an everyday Filipina who could very well be an Ifugao woman, a Manilena, or a Waray making a supreme personal sacrifice for the happiness of a dearly beloved.

The beauty in their work is how, by film’s end, Shaleha, finally, emerges as both tragic and victorious. And the genius is how this manages to be heartbreaking, hauntingly so, with nary a tear shed or a word spoken.

Yes, ‘Thy Womb’ is the kind of movie that doesn’t explain everything and doesn’t spoon-feed anything. Rather than verbalize, it visualizes. Not with a heavy hand, as in many of Mendoza’s previous films, but with a subtlety, sophistication and confidence that respects the viewer and treats him as a keen, intelligent, involved observer.

The movie presents a tapestry of images—raw, earth-bound, poetic, sublime— that paint a lovely and loving portrait of Badjao life, of a couple on a mission, and of a woman on a journey to fulfillment.

There’s a lot to take in, from the pageantry of the rituals and costumes to the stunning vistas of the sea-based communities, from the big and little ironies in the narrative to the ambiguities in the script.

Most and best of all, there’s Nora. She is simply astonishing with what is practically a wordless performance, her face alone registering a tidal wave of emotions—sadness and joy, resentment and resignation, pain and ecstacy, defeat and triumph, often all at once. She is, in a word, divine. 
(ERIC T. CABAHUG, InterAksyon)