Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Peruvian Academy Nominee finally opens: Claudia Llosa's THE MILK OF SORROW

Claudia Llosa's THE MILK OF SORROW (La teta asustada) -- a wonderfully rich and meaningful title -- was one of the five nominees for this past year's Best Foreign-Language Film (it comes to us via Peru).  That it did not win, given the Academy's Best Foreign-Language Film history, is no surprise. That it was nominated at all is encouraging. I first saw it almost one full year

ago, during the FSLC's yearly LatinBeat festival of Latin American movies.  And while it did not fully work for me at the time as a sustained piece of movie-making, neither has it left my mind for long, seemingly storing itself in some dark, back corner of my brain and popping up now and again -- which means, I would guess that this film is something of a "keeper."

What does stuffing one's own vagina with a potato indicate about the stuffer? Writer/
director Llosa (shown at left) tells us some facts, in chunks of exposition, but indicates more via the alternately withdrawn and florid performance of Magaly Solier (on the poster, top, and below), whose beauty steals men's hearts (as well as this viewer's) even as her bizarre behavior quickly pushes most of them (and us) away.

For one thing, that potato pretty well prevents coitus, which is certainly the original intent -- and which the character, Fausta, has learned from her mother (the two are shown two photos below) who was raped repeatedly back in the bad old days of Peru. We north-westerners know a bit about Chile under Pinochet and Argentina's "disappeared," but of Peru's dictatorial history, not so much. We won't learn a lot here, either, but the bits and pieces we pick up from the film will give us, at least, an idea.

The potato also represents a symbolic barrier -- to intimacy, friendship, feelings and more. As it grows its finger-like, projectile eyes, as a doctor in the film so ingratiatingly explains, it infects its host, sickening and weakening her. Holding on to the past, as we are later told, is not healthy. But after growing up with a mom like Fausta's, it could indeed be a little difficult to let go.

The Milk of Sorrow begins with some lovely singing: melodius music set to nasty lyrics that lay out the sorry events of the past. These songs fill the film, off and on, and are sung by Ms Solier, sometimes to herself, later to the bizarre, antisocial musician (shown below, left) who hires the girl to work in her home. This place of respite for Fausta, splendidly livable, is condoned off behind a wall in the midst of the throbbing life of the town.

Llosa's movie is filled with wonderful images, oddly but beautifully framed. The splendid cinematography is by -- yep -- Natasha Braier, the woman responsible for some of the best and most varied work we've seen over the past few years: In the City of Sylvia, Glue, XXY, Somers Town. (Some day, before he croaks, TrustMovies hopes to get an interview with this woman to learn a bit about how she does it!) Weddings are front and center in the movie, perhaps a tad too much so, which underscores the "clunk" factor but at least provides some interesting visuals (see below).

Familiar things -- the weddings, as well as pearls and swimming pools -- end up seeming quite singular here. But with fear of rape as the motor that drives one's life, why not? The Milk of Sorrow, symbolic, slow-moving and beautiful, does not quite coalesce, and the ending, by any standard, seems too pat. But for the work of its star Magaly Solier and Ms Braier, I would gladly see it again. Solier, by the way, is also the star of last week's debut Altiplano, in which she plays a much stronger character, though one who is equally troubled.  This actress is no only a stunning sight to see; she also possesses remarkable strength and the ability, especially in Altiplano, to say very little very quietly, while seeming to be heard around the world.

The Milk of Sorrow, from Olive Films, opens this Friday, August 27, in New York City at the Cinema Villageat Laemmle's Music Hall 3 in Los Angeles on September 3; and at the Tower Theatre in Miami on September 10.

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