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Irony is written all over Dante Mendoza's 'Thy Womb'. Shaleha, the main character (played by Nora Aunor) happens to be a Badjao midwife who can't give her man Bangas-An (Bembol Roco) a child of their own.
She savors the joys of childbirth through the eyes of another. Those sad, sad eyes light up at the sight of a newborn and at the sound of its first lusty cries. The rows and rows of umbilical cords Shaleha keeps in her simple home remind her of newborn babies she held in her hand, but can never call her own.
And the sea where she and her husband get their living from is no different. The miles and miles of tranquil blue stretching as far as the eye can see hide sharks — natural and man-made. The natural ones are quiet. It's the man-made variety that shakes husband-and-wife's peaceful world and threaten their survival.
This is the setting of a woman's journey of love and sacrifice. Make that a traditional Filipina's journey of love and sacrifice. For rare is the woman of modern times — especially the Western ones -- who can bend backwards for her man the way Shahela did.
Nerves of steel
For her man, Shahela can be outwardly meek and mild but all nerves of steel inside. That's the third irony of the film. Only Nora's eyes can change from unquestioning one instance, and uncertain the next. Only she can manage a forced smile and convey a riot of emotions without uttering a single word.
Nora's dialogues are few; her scenes quiet. But their very strength lies in their stillness. You don't have to drop kilometric lines to convey love. You don't have to lash out at someone to show how green with envy you are.
The hush-hush mood is temporary. The film brightens up --literally and figuratively — every so often. The bold colors of Badjao mats and clothing, the gaily-painted boats and carefree children jumping into the sea or flying kites, mirror a life of simply joys.
Festive wedding scenes break the monotony of day-to-day scrimping and coaxing a living from the sea. Life goes on despite the occasional gunshots that sow fear in the middle of a happy wedding. And oh, that's irony number four.
The final, and the best kind of irony comes at the end of the film, which is so thought-provoking it's a shame to reveal it here. Suffice it to say that it can bring Shahela close to the precipice, where she plays life giver once more . It's no coincidence that the closing scene of the film is strikingly similar to the one that opens it.
Mendoza doesn't spoon feed by showing how things turn out to be. He resorts to clues -- the body language, the one-liners. Draw your conclusions from there. Mendoza respects the viewer so much he won't spoonfeed him or her.
And you leave the movie house feeling like a demi-god — your opinion on the final scene as vital as the director's.
It makes you wonder, should 'Thy Womb' have a sequel or not?
Judging from the rave reviews the international community heaped on the film, the answer is a resounding yes.