Thu, Jun 13, 2019 - Page 14 News List

Movie review: My Happy Birth Day

This poignant documentary on childbirth provides a raw and up-close look at a process people usually keep private, but at times it feels like two films, one focusing on the emotional aspect and the other criticizing current birthing conditions

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Anais demands that her doctors provide as natural a birth as possible My Happy Birth Day.

Photo Courtesy of atmovies.com

If you’ve never witnessed a live birth, you’ll get to see three different types in My Happy Birth Day (祝我好好孕) — head first, butt first and a water birth.

Unlike what’s shown in the movies, childbirth isn’t pretty. But there’s a reason people still go through it, although at a decreasing rate. Directors Mimi Chen (陳育青) and Angel Su (蘇鈺婷) made the right decision to show the entire process as is, to open up discussion in a society where people are still squeamish about the not-so-glamorous aspects of human sexuality and the female body.

It’s telling that My Happy Birth Day was initially rated as PG-12, the official reason being “scenes of childbirth … may have adverse effects on the behavior and mental health of children.”

The directors objected and managed to have the rating lowered to Protected. Despite the uncensored nudity and full frontal shot of the baby coming out, there’s nothing explicit or sexual about the scenes; if a child can watch a giraffe giving birth on Animal Planet, there’s no reason they can’t watch this movie. In fact, one of the mothers’ two young daughters were present throughout the entire experience, and there shouldn’t be anything taboo about that.

But the documentary is more than just a professionally-produced home video. It is an ambitious project to combine the raw, emotional moments surrounding childbirth (and child loss) with a critical look at Taiwan’s often overly-intrusive medical system, promoting the idea that women have the right to choose how they want to have their baby.

Both subjects insist on having a natural birth, preferring to avoid C-sections and other procedures that hospitals often “strongly recommend” patients to undergo. It also provides an seldom-seen look at the work of midwives and doulas, or non-medical birth companions.

Film Notes

My Happy Birth Day

祝我好好孕

DIRECTED BY:

J Mimi Chen (陳育青) and Angel Su (蘇鈺婷)

LANGUAGE:

Mandarin with Chinese and English subtitles

RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes

TAIWAN RELEASE: In Theaters


The work is the full-length follow up to Happy Birthday (祝我好孕), a 2016 short by first-time directors that shot up from honorable mention at the New Taipei City International Documentary Festival to snagging a silver at the Women Make Waves Film Festival and finally claiming gold for the short film category at Hong Kong’s Chinese Documentary Festival.

While this reviewer did not watch the short, it seems to have more of an unusual and concentrated narrative, depicting two sisters who both work as midwives and end up delivering each other’s babies. The directors drew from five years of shooting pregnant women to come up with a completely new story for the full-length installation, but the final product carries somewhat of a split personality.

The ingredients are plentiful within the two distinct storylines: Daisy’s (詩薇) is the more emotional one as she goes through two home births, much focus is on the heartwarming and heartbreaking interaction between her family, especially with a loving husband and two daughters who accompany her through the process and a tragedy that ensues. Anais (琬婷) is the critical activist who insists on a completely natural home birth but has to make compromises due to the baby being in the wrong position.

But it doesn’t fit perfectly, perhaps because there’s too much to take in at once, including scenes of a “birthing autonomy theater group” organized by the feminist group Awakening Foundation (婦女新知) that seems like it could be a story on its own. The two storylines, while touching on the common subject of women deciding their own terms of giving birth, are essentially dealing with different conflicts and carry very different emotional undertones.

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