Monday, December 31, 2012

Sinapupunan (2012)

Sinapupunan (Brillante Mendoza, 2012)
International Title: Thy Womb

Sinapupunan (Thy Womb) opens with a woman giving birth. Shaleha (Nora Aunor), a midwife, accompanied by her husband Bangas-an (Bembol Roco), assists the soon-to-be-mother in delivering her child. Shaleha then routinely requests for the baby’s umbilical cord. She brings the keepsake from the afternoon home, hangs it alongside all the other cords she has collected from the many mothers she helped. The hanging cords in her home are ostensibly a record of her noble profession. Ironically, it also serves as a painful reminder of the one nagging imperfection of her marriage with her husband, which is her inability to bear children for him. Nature has fated her with infertility. However, her culture has given her the opportunity to remedy it. By finding another suitable wife for her husband, she is able to fulfil what for her is the most essential of her familial duties.

Mendoza strips the film of most external conflicts, concentrating instead on the nuances of infertile Shaleha’s relationship with her husband as she sets out to find a second wife for her husband to bear a child for him. 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. At one point, a wedding dance is abruptly stalled by violence. When the shock and confusion dissipates, the dance continues, almost as if nothing happened. Mendoza has effectively created a believable world wherein military conflict has weaved itself into the culture by sheer familiarity.

Sinapupunan 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.

Sinapupunan is observably quainter, tamer, and more mannered than Mendoza’s previous works. However, it still resonates with the same removed yet still potent anger that only an artist who wants to depict truth from a distance can evoke. The film ends with more questions than answers, as it has to. The story, which is essentially the film’s element that begs for a proper ending, is but a tool for Mendoza to frame the grand ironies that afflict humanity. When Shaleha asks for that final umbilical cord, she has finally severed the tie that has severely burdened her. We can only cry because we are also human.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)


Anonymous said...

What a great review of a great film. In a decade or two, Thy Womb will be remembered as a true Filipino classic.

Anonymous said...

It is a shame that this film was not patronized by many MMFF movie goers as foreign patrons did in film festivals in other countries. I must be very frustrating for serious movie makers in this country. Most movies presented during the MMFF were so inferior to be included in a “film festival”, even in this country.

athan said...

Don't worry Anonymous, Thy Womb still grossed around 10 million pesos and counting. With a production cost of 3 million and zero marketing cost, Thy Womb is bound to become the most successful art film ever.

Rey Benipayo said...

i love brialliante mendoza film. most of his film really focus on reality. thankfully this film became an mmff entry. i do hope for makasali ulit siya sa mmff this year. this film ( for mr) is a great mmff entry after so many decades. it's sad that it did not won best picture, for me it deserve this film to win best picture

Anonymous said...

I dislike BRILLANTE's works because he likes showcasing his thoughts on artistry clothed in social realism - not the other way around. Aunor and Roco are both products of a golden era of filmmaking. They are not indie actors; they cannot be subsumed and swallowed by the storywriter and the director. They deserve more respect than that.

I beg to differ - there were no fissures exposed and none of the relationships written took root. Mendoza and Burgos cannot be so 'smart' as to confuse the Filipino audience. This is evident in all the reactions of a majority of Filipinos who saw it. Hindi tanga ang Pinoy audience even if Mendoza insists that it needs a new kind of storytelling.

Nora and Bembol are artists of that high calibre that even if you place them in a crowd they will stand out and be noticed. That's how good and essential they are. Utilize these artists for what they are - mainstream artists in an 'indie' film project with a huge budget. They're talents and skills must be showcased; they can only conform so much to the writer's and director's whims. Make them useful.

That's why I believe Brillante Mendoza is still a pretentious director at this stage.

Just sayin' ...