Directed by Monika Uchiyama
It’s 8:38am—a detail gleaned from the TV screen at the bottom right of frame and the bright morning light shining through the drape-drawn window—as a bathrobe clad middle-aged woman hangs her laundry to dry just outside. Detail is everything in long static takes and here, director Monika Uchiyama carefully reveals and obscures all we need to know through explicit revelation and subversive visual metaphor.
A narrator begins to speak, but the image persists, holding steady for the duration of the film, a story, we soon find out, that is both deeply personal and inherently relatable. After giving birth, the narrator tells us, it was suggested she attend an informational session, the invitation to which she unwittingly accepted. There were only Latinos and Asians in the class, the subject of which, she soon found out, was the merits of tubal ligations, a medical procedure in which the ovaries are closed off, thus making it impossible to have any further children. She wondered to herself “why aren’t there any white people here? Why are there just Latinos and Asians?”
In hearing her recount the ordeal, I too began to wonder why this was. Is there some grand conspiracy afoot to suppress or halt minority birth rates? Under what circumstances might the suggestion of tubal ligation be permissible? No matter which way you spin it, there seemed to be a degree of malice at the core of the campaign. But then the narrator continues the story: she was already 38 by the time she was pregnant, so, for reasons left implicit, she decided to go about the procedure after her child was born. In an instant, personal pragmatism took precedent, and so the narrator pushed suspicion out the window, a given, as such, for a generation resigned and accustomed to xenophobic, patriarchal bias.
But what if she wanted to have another child? Most of the time, she’s told, the procedure can be reversed. Unsure of what her future might hold, the narrator asks her mother—who we then learn is the filmmakers grandmother, thus making the narrator the filmmaker’s mother—what she thought about having such a procedure done. It’s revealed to her, then, that after having three children, the narrator’s mother became pregnant again but did not want to have another child, so she decided to have an abortion. After the procedure, the doctor implanted a small 14k gold object to prevent future pregnancy, an antiquated but effective method not unlike tubal ligation.
The woman finishes hanging her laundry and enters the house, just as the narrator concludes her story with a note of irony from her own mother: that one day, when she dies and is cremated, the small 18k object will remain after the rest of her has turned to soot. The narrator laughs and tells her mother that no, the gold will probably melt down too.
It is this narrative metaphor that ties the story irrevocably to the visual metaphor at which we’ve been gazing for the duration of the film. The narrator is the woman airing her laundry. She is also the mother of the filmmaker, communicating to her daughter not just her personal history but the continuum of tragically comic experience, shared between generations, as it pertains to childbirth, taboo and the persistence of oppression.
Review by David Lombroso
Bright Beyond Bearing was selected and screened for our VOL. I Series, September 26th, 2018