Photo from the film Motherland.
Photo from the film Motherland.

MOTHERLAND (Bayang Ina Mo)
Director: Ramona S. Diaz
Cast: Lea Lumanog Lerma Coronel Aira Joy Jubilo, Dr. Ruben Flores, Dr Esmeralda T. Illem, Jhon Brayan Busalpa, Myriam Pelareja, Josephine Leybag, Elmer Bongo, Angel Jouy Carandang.
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/3/17
Opens: September 8, 2017

The rich have money and the poor have babies. It’s true everywhere, and so it’s true in the Philippines, where the fertility of the poor is on exhibit in Ramona S. Diaz’s documentary, “Motherland.” The title location is the world’s largest birth clinic, it’s in Manila, and it’s so busy that mother-to-be may have to share a bed. In fact it’s so busy the clinic does not have enough incubators, so the poor moms have to treat their babies the way kangaroos do, by covering them with their clothing and staying like this for days, keeping the new little ones warm.

Director Diaz, who specializes in documentaries, contributed “Imelda” to the film community particularly in her own country, stressing that hers is a biographical look at the women “beyond the shoes.” (Imelda Marcos is known worldwide for her footwear fetish, having accumulated 3,000 pairs.) Perhaps as interesting as those skeletons that were found in Ms. Marcos’s closet is Diaz’s current fare, where she and her camera person, Nadia Hallgren, were given the run of the large institution. And there’s one thing you can say about this huge motherland: it is not a soulless hospital such as the kind that Catherine Frot’s character in this year movie “The Midwife” turns down in favor of continuing to play her trade in a good old fashioned place that’s not run by technology.

The assortment of women who choose to speak have one thing in common aside from being mothers. They are all Catholic and almost without exception they do not want birth control, though advised by the good nurses to think about it. One shy mother is “afraid” to insert an IUD as though that would mean only an exorcist could get it out. Just a couple of moms opt for tubal ligation, while most of the crew, despite having six children already while still in their mid-twenties, are more than happy to be even more fruitful and multiplying.

And if you want to imagine the depths of poverty, think of this one: a father cannot visit his wife because he cannot afford the 18 cents’ bus fare given that he earns $10 a week. I wish there were some analysis of how a man can support eight people on that sum!

Among the individual stories of special interest is that of one woman who had to identify her baby as though the infant were in a police lineup, because the baby’s ID tag was on the floor. Happily the tag and the kid are joined and the mother joyfully prepares to have another little one.

Another point about poverty: some houses have no water or electricity, and presumably the families are not going to spent half their total income on bottles of Poland Spring.

This is quite an involving doc, an original as well. And presumably the Philippine government is proud to have this product placement to show the spirit of the heroic nurses who appear genuinely to care about the people they help. The photography is as crisp as you can get, with all scenes well lit, and the non-professional characters who are becoming mothers for the fifth, sixth, seventh time are happy to chat in front of the cameras. One would hope that each would be compensated as actresses deserve to be.

In Tagalog, with English subtitles.

Unrated. 94 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers? Agree? Disagree? Why?

Story – A-
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

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By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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