by ERWIN CABUCOS
Filipino Radio Brisbane
'Thy Womb' premiered at the Brisbane International Film Festival on Monday 19 November 2012 with strong commendation and applause from critics and general audience alike.
"What a brilliant film! It is very specific, authentic yet very universal," remarked Hong Kong film critic and curator Sam Ho at a post-screening interview in an audience pact room on Monday night at the Palace Barracks Cinema, Brisbane.
"The film is like a discovery for me which the rest of the world should also know about - the minorities in the Philippines' south," said Mendoza, who acknowledged the initiating call from the Film Development Council of the Philippines to make the movie in 2011.
It formed into a film that combined the outstanding talents of a multi-awarded female actor Nora Aunor and internationally acclaimed director himself Mr Brillante Ma. Mendoza.
'Thy Womb's narrative centres on the life of the Tausug Tribe in Southern Philippines, particularly in the province of Tawi-Tawi. The tribe's community, built on houses of stilts in the sea, is set on tranquil and beautiful seascape. The colourful tapestries and industry products of the people are juxtaposed with the disruptive acts of the militants and the internal conflict of the characters.
Protagonist Shaleha (Nora Aunor) is the hardworking midwife of the village who, after many years of trying to have her own child and considering adoption as an option, eventually decides to allow her husband Bangas-an (Bembol Rocco) marry another woman and have a baby that way.
What comes out of that mutual understanding between the loving couple is the journey of pain, patience, resilience and letting go which the film vicariously shares with the audience. The viewers gasped as the final shot faded out. This might have meant strong expectation from an unresolved ending.
"There were many suggestions from the critics and my crew for the ending but I had to decide for one that I personally think would fit best in the plot," justified Mendoza.
The film depicts strong references to Islam. As the villager's religion, Islamic prayers, rituals and way of life are given emphasis. A Catholic chapel that sits next to a mosque appears delapidated, unattended and neglected. The Muslim wedding is glamorously celebrated with colourful tapestry, mats and artefacts.
Film critic Ho commented on the preoccupation of the movie that contrasts with the ideology of the media with regards to the representation of Muslims. In the world of Hollywood films images of Muslims are polarised with good and evil, but in the films of Mendoza, Muslims are people with their own culture, rituals and drama in life.
"In your films, you destroy the myth about Muslims that we are so used to," said Ho.
"Everybody is a victim; we are not here to judge everybody's religion or culture. We have our own issues and problems but we are not here to judge everyone else's," said Mendoza who grew-up in a strong Catholic family and attended Catholic high school and university in the Philippines.
Mendoza hoped that by featuring the culture of people from southen Philippines society will start to dispel negative perception about Mindanao and the media's pervasive negative representation of the island.
Earlier on at a symposium at the State Library of Queensland, Mendoza told audience about his film-making career that only began at a later part of his life. "I am a late bloomer in the industry who had only started making films at the age of 45," said the now 52 year-old director.
When asked of his comment about being considered a national treasure, he expressed his kind reluctance to such a praise, making references to a number of other good film-makers in the Philippines worthy of similar accolades.
"I am simply happy to reflect and present facts to my audience and it is up to them to make judgment for the many world issues and my country's issues that come out of my films," said Mendoza.
"What I love about this film is the great balance between the big picture and the minute details about life, human being and human interaction. The way the whole community is introduced and their way of life is very universal," commented Ho.
"I think the film found a very powerful and profound metaphor. We see the characters are working on it. We see the way of life. We see the characters are doing something, thinking about something, while their hands are busy doing something else. Then at the end, there is this beautiful mat, weaved together. Then they made love on it. So full of meaning," expounded Ho.
"It's like a tapestry that starts with a single material yet ends with a beautiful mat. You discover the people and their story along the way," said Mendoza.
An audience commented that the colours in the film are astonishing to which Mendoza explained that the use of colours are his interest and design as well. This in turn spoke of his background.
Mendoza revealed that he used to be a production designer for other films in the Philippines apart from working in the advertising industry 15 years prior to making his own films.
He expressed his interest in capturing and accentuating the colours from the tapestry and the community's production of mats and shawls through the use of dyes.
"The colours in themselves are a story. You see the beautiful and vibrant colours in the film amidst the lonely struggles of the characters. It is an irony that I try to put together," said Mendoza.
Mendoza's film 'Thy Womb' contends for this year's Asia Pacific Screen Awards for achievements in directing and acting by a female actor. Brisbane-based APSA gives the most prestigious accolades for films from the 70-member nations in the region.
Previous interview of Filipino Radio Sabado with APSA Artistic Director Maxine Williamson cited critics' and film enthusiasts' strong anticipation of Mendoza's films as it had gained prior awards in Venice and Toronto Film Festivals. winning awards from critics for the success of Mendoza's directing talent in the film.
"Mendoza is an amazing film-maker and a well-established director," added Williamson.
Awards will be announced on the evening of the 23rd November in Brisbane QPAC (Performing Arts Centre), Southbank.
'Thy Womb' is now screening in Brisbane's Palace Barracks Cinema until 26 November 2012. Tickets may be purchased throug http://biff.com.au/2012-box-office/how-to-buy-tickets.
For a chance to receive free tickets to 'Thy Womb', listen to Filipino Radio Live Show through 98.1FM or www.4eb.org.au on Wednesday 21 Nov, 10-11PM. There are 6 tickets to be given away!
Full interview with director Mendoza will be broadcast on Filipino Radio Sabado on Global Digital, the digital radio channel of 4EB FM on Saturday 24 November between 7 and 9AM. Global Digital can be accessed worldwide through the TuneIn App or through www.4eb.org.au.
In the interview, Mendoza discusses other elements in the making of 'Thy Womb', including the use of actress giving birth in real life as well as the act of butchering a cow for the banquet scenes.
The following link has the Venice review and trailer of Brillante Mendoza's 'Thy Womb':