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A Walk to Beautiful (2008) - Movie Review

A Heartbreaking True Tale of Five Women

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In Mary Olive Smith’s moving documentary, A Walk to Beautiful, five young Ethiopian women face social ostracism and physical misery because they suffer from obstetric fistula, a medical condition that often occurs in women whose bodies are too small and underdeveloped--due to their young age or malnutrition--for them to be able to successfully deliver a healthy child.

What is Obstetric Fistula?

The condition, little known in the USA and other developed countries, afflicts two-million women in impoverished rural areas in countries around the world--particularly in Africa and Asia--where child birthing labor is allowed to continue for several days without medical assistance or intervention. The result: stillborn infants and mothers' bodies ripped apart.

The obstetric fistula is a hole that occurs between the woman's birth canal and her bladder, and it allows the constant seepage of urine, which runs down the women's legs, stains their clothing and--put plainly--stinks.

These millions of women are most often abandoned by their husbands, shunned by family and friends. Their plight is absolutely heartbreaking--all the more so because they are hapless victims of poverty and ignorance and can, in most cases, be cured by a simple operation.

The worldwide plight is brought home by the five Ethiopian women whom we meet in A Walk to Beautiful. Fortunately, these women find their way to a medical clinic in Addis Ababa, where Australian OB-GYN, Dr. Catherine Hamlin and her staff have treated about 32,000 women--or about 1,200 each year--with a relatively simple, risk-free and effective surgery--for free.

Results are not guaranteed, and to get to the hospital, the five women must walk for several days from their remote home villages to get to roads where they can take busses that then take several days to carry them to Addis Ababa. It's an arduous journey for women who've never before been away from their homes.

The Women and Their Stories

The five women, who are thoroughly engaging and completely desperate, capture our hearts. They are Ayehu, Almaz, Zewdie, Yenenesh and Wubete, each of whom had endured prolonged, unrelieved obstructed labor--without any medical help. Each delivered a stillborn infant, and was rendered incontinent.

Wubete and Yenenesh are both 17. Their early marriages and small physical statures (resulting from undernourishment and heavy labor during childhood) caused their first pregnancies to end in tragedy. When they get to the hospital, the two girls struggle through disappointing prognoses before eventually finding curative measures.

Ayehu, who proclaims that "death would be better than living like this," has hidden herself--shunned by siblings and neighbors alike--in shack behind her mother's house for four years. She's terrified to leave her familiar surroundings, however miserable they are, to journey on foot to the Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa, where she realizes--for the first time--that she's not the only women suffering from this problem. We see how supportive these women are of each other, and how that helps them to regain their emotional strength and self-esteem.

Almaz, a 20-year-old woman who'd been abducted by her now-husband from a village market, suffered from double fistula for three years. And, Zewdie, 38, abandoned by her husband, is actually does have a strongly supportive family that's helping her to raise her five children who long for their mother to become well enough to be with them.

We Feel Their Pain and We Root For Them

The film's director, Mary Olive Smith, doesn't even fain objectivity about the plight of these women--nor can we. The film is an obvious plea for the world to find a way to treat and relieve women suffering from obstetric fistula, and ultimately, eliminate the condition's causes by providing proper prenatal care and child birthing supervision, especially in rural and impoverished regions.

In addition to delivering the compelling stories of these five women and, through them, raising consciousness about the worldwide problem of obstetric fistula, Smith does a beautiful job of presenting ambience and living conditions in the Ethiopian countryside and Addis Ababas by way of exquisite cinematography and superb editing.

This is a very important and moving film, and really must be seen.

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