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The Milk of Sorrow

The Milk of Sorrow, “La Teta Asustada” in Spanish, is a 2009 film co-produced by Peru and Spain. It is the sophomore film of Peruvian director Claudia LLosa and stars Magaly Solier. The film is based on the book Entre Prójimosby Kimberly Theidon which deals with the trauma suffered by abused women in Peru’s recent history. Accordingly, Peru experienced civil unrest between 1980 and 1992. During that time, the country went through hard violence resulting from the uprising of the Maoist group Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and the actions of state military and support forces. Several women have been raped by security forces. In the film, the folk belief that the fears suffered by these women were transferred to their children through the milk from their breast was explored and dealt with. Thus, the “violence” does not only end with those who experienced it but also extends towards the next generation.
Plot. The film opens with an old, dying woman, sings her tale of woe, her story of being raped and forced to eat her dead husband’s penis, during the Shining Path campaigns in the 1980s. Her dread has been passed to her twenty-something daughter Fausta (Magaly Solier) who has taken her mother’s trouble deeply that she implants a potato in her vagina for being of being raped, though she presently lives in a peaceful time. The potato has now grown that Fausta has clipped off buds of the vegetable. When her mother dies, Fausta takes the responsibility for the funeral and of burying her. To accomplish this, she works as a maid for a well-to-do lady pianist. With her job, Fausta strikes friendship with the gardener and soon develops her own singing voice. Eventually, Fausta learns to let go of her fears, and in the end, she agrees to take out the budding potato.

Review. The Milk of Sorrow takes on a very sensational and delicate subject matter. The violence of the previous war was not seen in the movie, but the ill effect of it is effectively translated through the characters. The main protagonist, Fausta, was aloof, shy, reserved and unconfident, indicative of her sense of dread supposedly transferred to her from her mother’s milk. With her mother’s death, Fausta learns to explore the world beyond her neighborhood and her consequent realizations made her consent to extract the potato – a sign of her freedom at last.

The movie is full of lurid but sad shots, and scenes portraying Peruvian culture. The impoverished neighborhood which delights in simple things. The wedding rituals. The funeral rites. The marketplace. And everything else gives us a glimpse of Peruvian life for the indigenous people in the mountainside village. Very crude, informative, and provoking.

In exchange of these impressive visuals is the lack of melodrama and deep emotional attachment to the audience. There are no harrowing crying scenes in the movie despite its disturbing subject matter. The movie does not have so much dialogues, only subtle and silent actions. Also, several shots in the film are edgy close-ups or distanced long takes, giving the audience the feel of being an outsider to the characters and to the film as a whole. At the end, general audience would hardly relate to the message of the movie.

Actor. Magaly Solier as Fausta is brilliant. Her eyes are truly haunting, and the fears and sadness she feels are effectively exuded by her eyes. Her performance gained several best actress awards.

Unforgettable scene. The opening scene of the movie would be the most unforgettable part. The old woman chanting her miserable story while waiting for her death is very striking and intriguing, making audience eagerly anticipate for the unfolding succeeding scenes.

Reception. Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie a fresh rating of 81%. It also received several nominations (including Best Foreign Language for the 82nd Academy Awards and 2010 Goya Awards) and wins (including the 2009 Berlin Golden Bear).

Rating. I will give the movie only two stars out of five – one for Llosa’s genuity and one for Solier’s acting performance. Though the concept for the film is very fresh and original, it has failed to capture the luster and magic to “wow” viewers. In truth, it is quite excruciating to watch the film, after the opening, due to its slow pace, dullness and many “dead silence.” This is one of the movies that critics and award-giving bodies love that general audience would find hard to appreciate.

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