Sunday, January 24, 2010
The Milk of Sorrow ***
Director: Claudia Llosa
Cast: Magaly Solier, Susi Sánchez, Efraín Solís, Marino Ballón
Peruvian contemporary history is examined through the story of Fausta (Solier) in Claudia Llosa's "The Milk of Sorrow".
Fausta lives in Lima with her family after they migrated from the country; when the movie begins we see her mother on her deathbed as she sings about the horrors she lived through at the hand of terrorists.
The song, done in Quechua, has a haunting quality that makes it disturbing to fully grasp that the events narrated in it actually occurred to Fausta's mother. She sings how terrorists not only raped her but made her eat her husband's penis and wants her daughter to always keep this present. She dies, leaving Fausta in a state of complete sadness and desolation.
The indigenous people think this deep sorrow comes from a disease called "la teta asustada" (literally translated as "the frightened tit") transmitted by mothers to their offspring through breastfeeding.
With the intention of taking her mother's body to her hometown, Fausta moves in with her uncle (Solís) who urges her to arrange the funeral before his daughter's wedding and gets a job as a maid in the house of upper class musician Aida (Sánchez) where she slowly befriends the gardener (Solís).
The shy Fausta has to learn how to live in a world filled with rapists, murderers and evil spirits without her mother's guidance.
Somewhere between raw social drama and magic realism, Llosa's film is filled with allegories and actual events that might sound like allegories.
When we learn that Fausta introduced a potato in her vagina to avoid being raped and we see how calmly she owns this-even the doctor that discovers it reacts to it as if it was the most natural thing in the world-we are caught in a dreamlike place where thousand year old traditions coexist with social fears.
While the Shining Path is never referred to specifically, one doesn't have to be an expert in Latin American history to understand that everything that happens to Fausta is a direct manifestation of the violence that erupted in Perú with the terrorist group.
Interestingly because the film never attributes any specific actions to the Shining Path, one can assume that Llosa understands that it's impossible to throw the whole blame on a determined group. The rapes and murders in "The Milk of Sorrow" might also have been committed by the military and the government who had as much responsibility as the terrorists.
Through Solier's devastating performance we become witnesses of how a group of people had to cope with things they had never imagined. For the indigenous people of Perú to fathom why strangers with machine guns were massacring them, would be the same as us understanding why Fausta mummifies her mother and talks to her corpse every night.
The audience and Fausta stand in almost extreme opposites and Llosa creates strange beauty out of otherwise mundane situations like the kitsch wedding ceremonies in Fausta's neighborhood that evidence the materialism-as-means-of-new-tradition conveyed by people who are learning to adhere to the rules of a foreign society.