Cinemalaya 2011: Bahay Bata
I was able to watch a bunch of Cinemalaya films this year so here’s what I think of some of them. I’m starting with this one since this is the last I watched in the U.P. run and I think it’s somehow my favorite. SPOILER ALERT! moments abound here so don’t read if you don’t want the plot to be uncovered.
d. Eduardo Roy Jr.
s. Jerome Zamora, Eduardo Roy Jr.
e. Bebs Gohetia
sc. Toni Munoz
c. Diana Zubiri
Pitch: Days before Christmas and we see a day in the life of a nurse working in the free ward of a public hospital where new mothers just gave birth to babies. The nurse’s life weaves with the patients’ and fellow nurses’ lives around her, making her reflect on the things she sees around her in connection with her own personal inner struggles.
Catch: Needs another script doctor’s eye to polish some contrived dialogues, but minimal.
This film should have the subtitle “And this is why the Philippines needs the RH bill now!”
The story is very, very simple yet in its simplicity, it truly works. It’s just a day in the life of a nurse as she works. We see Sarah the nurse, played emphatically by Diana Zubiri, go around in her usual nurse routine during her day shift, and then she gets extended to the night shift as well. But the difference here is, we also see the people and the area around this routine, perhaps something we don’t get to see often in cinema.
Here, we see an in-depth look of what a free ward inside a public hospital looks like: hospital beds with two persons/patients occupying one bed. Yes, you read that right: they share beds. As Sarah and the other characters walk around, the camera follows them and in its full wide angle lens glory, we see these beds lined one after the other, claustrophobic in its proximity to one another, yet the women who occupy them don’t seem to mind. In fact, some of the women — especially the young girls — forge bonds as they exchange their love stories as they sat in one bed.
And this is why I love this film: the visuals speak for the messages the film tries to subtly convey. No unnecessary histrionics emanating from “over-workshopped acting actors” or didactic expository dialogues. Aside from discovering the look inside such hospital wards, we also get to know how they run things there. Of course there’s the usual issue of not being able to check out the mother and the baby if one hasn’t settled their bills, but that wasn’t presented melodramatically. There was that particular storyline about a mother who just had her 13th baby — yes, 13th, again a “typical” issue in the country — and she ran out of breast milk. Her husband tried to bring her powdered milk but he was banned from entering the hospital because it is a strictly “breastfeeding only zone” hospital. I never knew that and through this film, now I know that such rules exist. Interesting. Plus another interesting issue for me is having someone else breastfeed another’s baby. That is what happened to that mother of 13 kids, as a young mother aged 17 — yes, 17 years old, yet another “typical issue” in our society — was brought to her to breastfeed her baby. And speaking of age, there was also this scene of young girls exchanging stories of how they got pregnant and all, and one of them was 13 years old. No judgment by the others, as the 17 year-old casually commented “Ay, ang bata mo pa, nabuntis ka na” saying “How young of you to get pregnant.” without any tone of condemnation, just plain commentary, like it’s just “typical” an occurrence. Sadly, it is typical, indeed.
The way such issues and concerns crop out of the film in bits and pieces, sporadically sprinkled here and there, and presented nonchalantly is why I think this film is so powerful. Quiet, unassuming, but carrying loads and loads of things for audiences to think about, without being so rah-rah about such issues.
We also get to see interpersonal relationships of people who work in these spaces as we also discover facets of their lives familiar to us. We see very old nurses get treated shabbily by arrogant doctors younger than them. We see some nurses filling out application forms for job openings in Canada. We see how nurses form and forge friendships in these spaces. Very interestingly executed as well, as we see very realistic portrayals we forget that this is a fiction film sometimes.
I also like the way it subtly comments on the hypocrisy that is abortion in this country. Sarah’s character gets devastated near the end as she gets dumped by the man that impregnated her, leaving her a day before Christmas Eve dinner happens, because his affair with the nurse was found out by his wife. Even this moment was executed well: no melodramatic histrionics as we see the man and the nurse in the middle of their conversation, just staring at each other, obviously the man having just delivered the bad news and Sarah’s eyes were already welling up as she tries to find the words to say. After, she wanders with a preoccupied mind, running an errand of picking up medicines from the pharmacy and walks back to her ward, but in the middle passing the post-abortion ward section of the hospital, which at first was defocused and unseen, and as she passes and exits the film frame, we see the sign and the entrance to the post-abortion ward focus and the camera lingers in this image — a foreshadowing of things to come. (But even the foreshadowing wasn’t presented that forcefully, just hinted at. Then the result of the foreshadowing was also presented sparingly, not blatantly, in that scene where she faced the mirror and started quietly taking some pills. Powerful!) I mean, the very existence of such a ward in a public hospital really reflects realities that should be faced by lawmakers and if they really want to help women, that should be acknowledged and addressed humanely, not condescendingly (and certainly out of the domain of the Catholic church), to really be pro-women and all that.
I like this film. It really works for me. I do hope people who get to see this get the message. It’s about time some sectors did. Paging CBCP?
Kudos to the team who did this. A special mention to my friend who made the musical score of this. Congrats for your first full-length, Toni! More to come!
Plus P.S. it’s interesting how the title has this word-play going on, like its English title is baby factory but in Filipino, bahay bata literally means a woman’s womb, or specifically that thingie inside the womb that “houses” a fetus. Interesting. Wala lang, pansin ko lang. Anyway, try to catch this if it shows somewhere.