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Movie review: The tragedy of 'Thy Womb'

Nora Aunor, Tawi-Tawi, Brillante Mendoza—in that order. Perhaps, those three were the same things that drew about 20 or so moviegoers to a near-empty mall on a quiet Christmas evening to watch "Thy Womb," the filmfest entry of an acclaimed director. Most, or at least those who stayed, probably came away feeling the night could have been better spent in merrier pursuits instead. From the start, it wasn’t clear if the theater’s projector was out of focus, or if the film itself was just blurry in places. Comparing notes with a friend who watched the same movie in a different cinema, however, it seems it wasn’t the fault of the projector or the viewer’s eyeglasses; much of the landscape shots really were blurred. Someone said it was probably cinéma-vérité, or the film crew might have found it challenging to shoot outdoors, but then another Pinoy film made recently with an indie budget comes to mind, and that one had spectacular shots of islands and the sea. Couldn’t Mendoza, a Cannes-winning director, have done better? That was a pity, because anyone who has been to Tawi-Tawi can attest to its exotic beauty, which rivals those of other picturesque islands in the Philippines. Its remoteness and unfair image as a strife-torn province have prevented many travelers from discovering the rich culture and beguiling seascapes though. Fortunately, Nora Aunor’s effortless acting carried most of the movie, even as the viewer struggled to make sense of the script. Her character, a childless midwife, spends mindless hours here looking for a second wife for her husband—a woman who could bring the much-needed bundle of joy missing from their humdrum existence. There was no rhyme or reason to the search though, with Aunor expressing surprise at one point for the exorbitant dowry required, even when an earlier scene had already established the price points for several suitable maidens in the marriage market. The continuity error was glaring, but it was not the only thing that rankled the audience throughout the movie. There were the scenes that led to nowhere: losing the day’s catch to pirates, a group of soldiers trudging through a busy market in their heavy boots, gunshots fired during a wedding. If they were meant to portray lawlessness in the islands, then they were probably part of the other seemingly obligatory shots in the film. Sitting through the progression of sequences that made no sense, one wonders if the director had an assistant with a clipboard in hand and a list of must-scenes: huge butanding under the frail banca, check; sensuous pangalay dance, check; pawikan laying eggs on the shore, check; tedium of island life, check. Midway through the movie, the viewer begins to wonder: is this a documentary or a feature film? Either way, it fails miserably. And where is Lovi Poe, who is featured prominently in the movie poster, in all of this? Well, the audience catches a tantalizing glimpse of her at one point, but it turns out her role is more cameo than anything else. By the time she utters the words that become the turning point in what was until then a meandering narrative, the conclusion of the movie had become predictable. The letdown was unfortunate, considering that "Thy Womb" actually had a very good story. Sadly, the storytelling left much to be desired. Hobbled by a faulty script, reckless editing, and lack of coherence, the movie became a work that was too full of itself it was simply too painful to watch in its entirety. The only artistry came from Aunor and Bembol Roco, who deserve credit for putting up with the vagaries of their roles. In the end, instead of empathizing with the lead character for the tragedy that befalls her, the viewer feels numb. A dumbstruck Nora fan at the back of the theater said it best: “That’s it?!” – BM, GMA News