THY WOMB (Brillante Mendoza, 2012)

A classmate of mine once joined a beauty pageant back in high school, and she was handed this question: "What is the essence of being a woman?"

The question was the mother of all cliches, but I remembered the essence of her answer by heart. She said, "the essence of being a woman is being able to give birth to a child, hold that child in your arms, and raise him." She won that pageant. 

Brillante Mendoza's latest cinematic offering revolves around that same idea. The title itself, THY WOMB clearly and categorically pinpoints motherhood, or rather the capability of a female human being to conceive and give birth to another human being. Along the journey, Mendoza also deconstructs the role of a woman, a mother, a wife, and a member of a particular community, where tradition is of utmost importance. In the lead role, superstar Nora Aunor is gripping as Shaleha, a Muslim woman living in Tawi Tawi with her husband, Bangas-An (Bembol Roco). What seems like a quiet and idyllic marital union is actually underlined by the fact that Shaleha seems incapable of conceiving a child, and Bangas-An wants so much to have one.

Such genius tandem works well, for both Aunor and Roco elicit their characters' desires through their eyes; through La Aunor, we see how much Shaleha is dedicated to make her husband happy, and via Roco, we learn of how much Bangas-An really wants that child. Both actors are perfect casting choices for filmmaker Mendoza's placid tone and pacing. Much is said during scenes of no dialogue.

And the film is even a fresh and invigorating experience, not only for its boldness to explore the hidden beauty of Mindanao's geography and culture, but also because of a wife going to extreme lengths to find her husband a second wife, one who is fertile to conceive their long-anticipated child. This is an image we don't see in Filipino movies, because in mainstream exploration of extramarital affairs and love triangles characters talk and talk about nonsense, reducing women as objects and elevating men as some sort of sex god. THY WOMB reverses all of that, and by way of highlighting the importance of culture and tradition in reference to gender, the conflict is made much more difficult. Remember that THY WOMB takes place in a Muslim community, and with Mendoza you notice every bit of respect for the Muslim culture was exercised. Even the Muslim-Christian strife lingered only in a passing image.

Mendoza and  screenwriter Henry Burgos makes a powerful stand on the Muslim-Christian conflict, even only as a backgrounder. Nora Aunor's Shaleha tumbles down twice during the movie, once at sea where rebel bandits causes their boat to capsize, and Bangas-An is even shot in the process. The other is in the market, where Shaleha loses grip on her sweet potatoes because of soldiers storming out of nowhere. During the wedding scene where Mercedes Cabral does the ceremonial dance with her husband in front of all the guests, gunfire ensues. But the show must go on. Life goes on. This war is a huge farce staring us right in the face.

Nora Aunor shines in her minimalist portrayal of the subservient wife Shaleha. Aunor indeed is such a master of minimalist acting, and yet the emotional effect on the audience is tremendous. Her eyes really do talk, and they talk endless paragraphs of emotions. Towards the end, Mendoza breaks the image of the subservient wife, reminding us Shaleha is still a woman and a human being capable of getting hurt.

The arrival of Lovi Poe as Mersila, the woman who will be wed to Bangas-An and who will supposedly give Shaleha and Bangas-An their much-awaited child comes in brief, but strong. She says only a few lines, but one particular line hit like an arrow in the heart, and that plot twist made all the difference.

But in summation, is giving birth to a child really the only essence of being a woman? Is a woman less woman if she is barren? Yes she may be of less worth in reference to other women who can produce offspring but is she of less worth in reference to herself? Is she not a woman then? THY WOMB asks some difficult probing questions without providing easy answers. The ending in particular is raved by critics, because of the powerful image it evokes- which is one of uncertainty over seemingly calm waters.

RATING: 5/5 


  1. Thanks for this! Great, great review!

  2. Good day po..I am a student po from De La Salle- Dasmarinas and may thesis po kami about sa film na “Thy Womb” .. Case study po siya about sa irony nung film na despite po na multi-awarded ang film pati na ang cast and director, hindi pa din siya pumatok sa philippine cinema, na meron pa nga pong mga sinehan na pinull-out po siya nung showing niya last MMFF 2012 ..Maari po ba namin kayong mainterview about this study.. Thank you so much po .. Sana po maka-reply po kayo.Have a great and blessed day


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