The Philippines is the current record holder for Asia’s highest birth rate, making the Dr Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital in Manila one of the world’s busiest maternity hospitals. Ramona S Díaz’s intimate new documentary, Motherland, takes us behind the guarded gates of the facility to follow several young women as they give birth and raise their children there.
Opening with a 24-year-old patient informing a stern nurse that she has “just five” children, Motherland paints a stark picture of early motherhood in the cramped, humid city. Patients are instructed over loudspeaker to keep their beds tidy or if it is their turn to go home. Public hospitals lack incubators here, so mothers must keep their premature babies inside their clothes at all times.
Not only is this a detailed, first-hand vision of a lesser-documented corner of the world, the film also provides a fascinating insight into current Filipino views on family, contraception and motherhood. Many of the women here have spent the majority of their adult lives either pregnant or recovering in hospital. Few are on any form of birth control, with hysterectomies common for women in their 20s who already have five or more children. The Fabella nurses spend hours encouraging young women to have IUDs put in place, though many refuse. Nothing is missed in cinematographers Nadia Hallgren and Clarissa De Los Reyes’s uncompromising close-ups and long shots, from the gory details of birth to emotional family visits. The camera flows through the crowded, sweaty interior of the hospital, witnessing the lively conversations between the new mothers. It also captures an extraordinarily tender moment between a father and his new baby, as he sings to the child to help it grow.
Motherland ends with the birth of a baby girl, claimed to be the 100 millionth Filipino. The film leaves a distinctly hopeful message, one of new life and family, but also that of a country struggling under its own extremely high birth rate. The Fabella Hospital is like a conveyor belt, with the constant influx of women showing no signs of abating despite their best efforts.
Motherland does not have a UK release date yet.
For further information about the 67th Berlin Film Festival visit here.