Friday, November 04, 2011

Bahay Bata (2011, Eduardo Roy Jr)

Baby Factory, the English title of the film, gives us a better description of what to expect. Dozens of babies are delivered every day at the Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital (DJFMH) in Manila. The hospital staff is more than ready to meet the deluge of babies, though. It is no surprise then that the country’s symbolic ‘seven billionth person in the world’ was born at DJFMH.

An early important scene from the film shows us how a doctor and nurses handle one such birth. With the mechanical precision of a Formula One racing crew, the staff members do their respective jobs and in less than a minute or so, the baby comes out. Then, they completely dry up the newborn to stimulate breathing and lay him/her down upon the breast of the mother for uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact. Breastfeeding is highly encouraged within the first hour of life. Cord clamping and cutting is delayed. These are all done in complete adherence to a program introduced by the Department of Health and the World Health Organization in 2010. The Essential Newborn Care protocol is projected to drastically cut down newborn deaths in the Philippines.

I’m not sure though if an advice the mother received from a staff member is part of the hospital protocol or government policies. During the childbirth, a staff member is clearly heard reminding the mother to get a ligation. The mother had probably given birth countless times hence the admonition.

The ease at which the mother gave birth reminded me of a highlight scene in the continuing documentary Tundong Magiliw. With only an elder midwife at hand, the Tondo-based mother also gave birth easily. Both mothers have given births more than the national average of 2.5 births per mother. The poorest of these mothers average a staggering 6 births. It is no wonder then that they took to giving birth so easily just like Allan Caidic drilling down 3 pointers or Cinemalaya films winning awards abroad.

But, before Bahay Bata gets embroiled in the Reproductive Health bill debate, it should be noted that the film is the best Bing Lao-influenced Cinemalaya finalist of 2011. Director Roy made great use of his opportunity to film at the hospital premises. Just like Amok’s Law Fajardo, the director overcame the odds despite working in a place teeming with people. His film had an almost documentary feel to it. Vivid, realistic details such as the childbirth and the 1:6 bed-patient ratio give the film heft and panache. The Christmas setting adds poignancy to the drama.

It is when the film veers away from hospital realities and nursing tasks that it bogs down. Mailes Kanapi can’t seem to shake her theatre background as she comes on too strong as a tightwad doctor hated by her subordinates. On the other hand, Diana Zubiri gives out a lackluster performance. She was not able to convince me as a nurse. It is a good thing that she is not the lead. The lead character is the DJFM hospital and boy, it truly is a baby factory with at least 630 mothers/patients at the time of shooting.

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