By Pablo A. Tariman, VERA Files
The latest Dante Brillante Mendoza film,"Thy Womb," has reverberations of the 1957 Lamberto Avellana film "Badjao" and in another sense, Marilou Diaz-Abaya's "Sa Pusod Ng Dagat."
They all expound on love, life and lost traditions in the islands and with the unstable peace and order situation constantly threatening an otherwise idyllic life by the sea.
While the Avellana film zeroes on two warring tribes with their own versions of a "Romeo and Juliet" scenario and the Abaya film chronicling birth and death in the island, the latest Mendoza film unveils an uncanny kind of altruism between a childless Badjao couple.
The film captures the colorful life and tradition of the Badjaos as seen in courtship and wedding rituals and in the process showcase a rare unselfish kind of love between a Badjao comadrona and his husband. The irony of her life is that while she helps give birth to countless babies every week and keep count of them by keeping a part of their umbilical cord in her abode, she herself is childless. For love of her husband, she even helps find a suitable bride who can procreate.
It is in the role of Shaleha, the Badjao midwife, that Nora Aunor gives an incandescent performance. She has very little dialogue in this film but every time the camera focuses on her with her marital predicaments quietly etched on her face, she delivers a kind of acting that is natural and thus even more astounding.
Scriptwriter Henry Burgos has woven a tale of unselfish love that is unusually quiet and very cerebral. The breath-taking cinematography of Odyssey Flores captures the scenic way of life of the Badjaos. On his part, Brillante's direction unwittingly stayed away from unnecessary details that will detract from the simple life of this gentle Badjao couple. When the couple makes love for the last time before the takeover of the new bride played with sensitivity by Lovi Poe, you can see that the heroine in this film is made of sterner stuff.
For its portrayal of the way of life of the Badjaos, the Brillante Mendoza film is a refreshing entry in the 2012 Metro Manila Film Festival. It could educate a bulk of our young moviegoers who equate love with the usual "kilig" formula. It can further educate them on how our Muslim brothers live and how they cope with unstable peace and order in their territory.
"Thy Womb" was an official entry in the 69th Venice Film Festival where it won three special prizes: the La Navicella Venezia Cinema Award, the P. Nazareno Taddei Award - Special Mention, and the Bisato d' Oro Award for Best Actress (for Nora Aunor).
On the side, one can cay that the Mendoza opus completes the trilogy of good films featuring Roco and Aunor. They were seen in "Merika" directed by Gil Portes and they were unforgettable in "Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos: by Mario O'Hara.
The late O'Hara was also the director when they did "Sa Ngalan Ng Ina" for a TV network
If Roco made a mark as a Badjao husband in "Thy Womb," "Sa Ngalan Ng Ina" saw him playing a smalltown politician felled by an assassin's grenade during a political rally. It was a role reminiscent of Ninoy Aquino's last few hours, it was a scene which easily recalled the Plaza Miranda bombing.
As in "Thy Womb," Roco and Aunor played husband and wife too in their last TV drama starrer.
Some chilling scene in that TV drama: before the rally, his wife (Aunor) prayed for guidance while he is seen as a people-loving man and a gentle and loving husband.
Throughout this brief but powerful exposure, Roco held his own and came out a natural performer. His instant death all the more magnified a noble life he led and these layers of character-build up Roco managed to project with unerring grace.
In both TV and film team-up, it was a winning role for Roco and it was all worth the investments he had made for the industry.
His first big break was the starring role in "Maynila Sa Kuko Ng Liwanag by Lino Brocka and looking back, that film actually changed his life completely. It opened new things to him that he did not think was just possible. "Here I realized that film had tremendous power comparable to big-time politics. It was after that film that I seriously thought of joining showbiz for good."
Close to three decades in film taught him a lot of things but it was Brocka who showed the way. "He explained to me that as an actor, I have responsibility to the public.. I didn't know what that meant. That my privacy would be invaded I felt right away. But I also knew that the reward was fulfilling as well. Anywhere you go, people know you and will take care of you. At that time, it didn't make sense to me that people would value privacy when they stand to gain more by having their share of modest fame and fortune."
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")