It’s one born every minute in Ramona S Diaz’s look at one of the busiest maternity wards in the world.
“How many children do you plan on having?”
The Philippines, it is reported, has one of the highest birthrates in all of Asia. Almost five thousand babies are born here daily, more than double than the United Kingdom, to which it’s roughly the same size. With tragically low incomes all around, and families larger than ever, it seems that the Philippines is barreling towards trouble. Filmed over the course of a few weeks at the Dr Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, Ramona S Diaz’s documentary Motherland provides an unobtrusive insight into the day-to-day goings on of the world’s busiest maternity ward. The movie – told in a linear fashion that details the birth and first days of several newborns – follows a few nurses and mothers, and tries to look into this terribly high fertility rate.
Motherland is a documentary that had a lot to say, but I find that it never quite sticks to the messages, or really spells them out all that clearly. However, when it does commit it shows us a society that is too embarrassed to properly discuss family planning, where old-school opinions on birth control and ligations are common, and where the tirelessly working staff are constantly attempting to convince their patients of the benefits to such precautions. Some of these families are 6 to 7 children strong already, and with some parents who are barely in their twenties, it’s indicative that there is a problem that needs addressing, sooner rather than later.
And if the thought of raising half a dozen children isn’t already worrying, Fabella serves some of Manila’s poorest families – who in reality would struggle to raise even a single kid. These moments are some of the more evocative and emotionally resonant of the entire documentary as we see (relatively) new mother Lea wrestle with the idea of having to bring up twins (as well as her firstborn), as the looming prospect of the £1000 hospital bill lingers above their heads. That’s a number that doesn’t sound too bad, but as many of the mothers in the ward can attest, that kind of money can be hard to come by.
Lea’s boyfriend – an in-and-out-of-work but seemingly nice guy –barely scrapes together £20 as a down payment for their bill (of which there are systems to help people pay), after having borrowed money from his sister. Likewise, many of the other mothers almost never see their husbands during their stay at Fabella, simply because a few of them can’t afford the 20-odd pesos (with a conversion of almost 1 peso to a penny) to travel in. Motherland brings these sentiments into the foreground as it goes on, and we start to get an understanding about who everyone is and what their situations are.
However, like I said, it’s certainly not the most focused of documentaries, and tends to go off on tangents, forgetting about certain women only to bring them back into the picture some time later. It might have benefited more from structure in order to tell its story better. But then again, the chaotic way the film is brought to us does accurately represent the conditions within the world’s busiest maternity ward, and maybe that was the film’s intentions all along. After all, it is a complete madhouse in there – it’s a wonder anybody gets anything done. Thankfully, director Ramona S Diaz imbues the film with plenty of warmth and humanity, by showcasing the friendly interactions between the new mothers, and how they support one another during these times.
Your enjoyment of this film will largely not be based less on anything technical, but rather how long you can stand to hear the near-constant background noise of babies crying, and to a wider extent what your baby-related-talk tolerance is in general. Motherland isn’t the sort of movie you just click on, sit back and enjoy, but it is a solid, intimate look at a very particular and momentous moment in the lives of people whose day-to-day experiences likely differ wildly to your own. In a way, by providing us with an unadulterated glimpse into this world as a documentary, Motherland succeeds entirely as a documentary. I’m not entirely sure I was the target audience for it, though.
Verdict: By being sprinkled with commentary, Motherland is kept entertaining and thankfully light-hearted.
Overall entertainment: Personally, for me? 6.5/10
Sex: Like, negative 20/10
Violence: My rating system really isn’t designed for this.
Babies: A hundred fucking million, apparently
MVP: No-nonsense nurse at the front desk. Clear ya beds, ladies!
Director: Ramona S. Diaz
Writer: Ramona S. Diaz