Director: Claudia Llosa
A surprise winner of the Golden Bear at Berlin earlier this year, ‘The Milk of Sorrow’ is further evidence of a renaissance in Latin American cinema. Like numerous other films from the continent in recent years, it considers the aftermath of the transition from dictatorship to democracy and the process of rehabilitation and reconciliation. ‘The Milk of Sorrow’ or ‘The Frightened Tit’ to provide the film with its more accurately translated title is an illness, more psychological and mental than physical, that afflicts a generation of Peruvian women. During the violence of the 1980s, thousands of women were raped by the Maoist terrorist organisation, Shining Path. The trauma of this violence is passed from one generation of women to another; it’s an illness that can’t help but be inherited.
At the heart of the film is a stunning central performance by a young, inexperienced actress named Magaly Solier, who plays Fausta. Her mother is dying, and with her final few words, it’s clear that she still remains haunted by the sexual abuse she suffered. The rest of the family are more concerned about the impending nuptials of Fausta’s cousin, and remain preoccupied still when the pensive, thoughtful Fausta reveals the death of her mother to them. What follows then is a sort of coming of age drama, as Fausta can only put the past to bed by burying her mother. This isn’t so easy, since arranging a burial’s not simple if you don’t have any money, and Fausta wants to treat her mother with respect and the dignity she never experienced through her life. Whilst she finds work as a maid for a middle class concert pianist, Fausta has nosebleeds and it’s revealed she has a tuber in her vagina. As her uncle explains the “milk of sorrow” to the unsympathetic doctor, he refutes this, as if the rest of Peru has forgotten its turbulent past already – it’s the population most affected by the political upheaval who’ve still been unable to overcome it.
The LFF screening was introduced by its Argentine DoP Natasha Braier, who recently shot ‘XXY’ and ‘In the City of Sylvia’ (both 2007) and has lent all three films a distinctive, artful style. It remains restrained and distanced. It’s a languid, composed film that never rushes itself, that never needs to reconstruct violence to show its effects and further demonstrates that the most effective means of interrogating the past is by using cinema.