Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Cinema review: The Milk of Sorrow

La Teta Asustada is set in contemporary Peru but looks back to the troubles of the 1980s when the country was at virtual civil war between Sendero Luminoso, a ruthless Maoan revolutionary organisation that also took inspiration from Inca resistance movements to Spanish imperialism, and a military that often acted above the law and in many parts of the country were the law which thet despatched with summary justice.

The literal translation of the title is 'the frightened teat' and the film's central concern is the abuse of women during the conflict by both sides and its long-term effects on them and their offspring, many of whom were born from rape; the belief the title alludes to is that the trauma of a violent conception is transmitted to the child through her mother's milk.

The director, Claudia Llosa, is the niece of Peru's best known novelist Mario Vargas Llosa but she draws on a wider range of material for her script than fiction, although magical realism and folk tale are both woven into the texture of the books, including psychological and sociological studies that exposed mass rape as explicit strategies deployed by both sides.

This suggests a heavy watch but the movie, set in the barrios that extend for miles over the desert hills surrounding Lima, is also a charming evocation of village life transplanted to a more urban and less rooted existence. In particular, weddings and wedding customs parade through the film, bringing families and communities together to celebrate their camaraderie, play out their tensions and seed new romances among the guests.

Magaly Solier's central performance as Fausta, a near mute and painfully shy.young woman whose mission is her mother's dying wish - to bury her back home. On her death bed she sings of the troubles that befell her and her generation in an opening scene that demands attention as it establishes in ballad form the back story that brings us here. In telling the story of mother and daughter and their bond beyond death it becomes the repository of many similar testimonies and does bear the weight of that responsibility. How you react to Solier in the lead role will determine whether you respond emotionally or merely cerebrally. It is her journey to reestablish her life after the death and to overcome her condition that is beyond the medical, although it manifests itself medically, that you'll be preoccupied by.

Ultimately, the film represents the shame of a family and of a nation as both attempt to overcome their past by burying it. That is a theme that can be applied to conflicts across societies and throughout history told as the sun slowly rises in the the beautiful sadness of Solier's eyes. The story is told less through linear plot and more through the occurrence and recurrence of images that suggest the paintings of Frida Kahlo, another Latin American woman who spent her life overcoming a tragic beginning by a strength of will expressed in surreal but rooted visions. 

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