Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Sorrow from Peru

I sat down to watch Claudio Llosa's The Milk of Sorrow last night and was, to put it mildly, pleasantly surprised. I hadn't expected much from this film about evil breast milk and women stuffing potatoes inside their delicate lady parts, but I obvious underestimated it. The nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at last year's Oscars is even more curious now that I've seen it and can only imagine how the same people can nominate this alongside, for instance, The Secret in Their Eyes.

Thank heavens they did since it's an amazing film that I otherwise probably wouldn't have thought twice about seeing. A delicately put together, deeply affecting movie that offers a portrait of a woman - an entire gender, even - so fractured by the myths of rumours of her past that she can barely function in the present. Magaly Solier's face is so fascinating to watch; my favourite scene was the piano concert sequence and the way her face flickers throughout was beautiful.

Beautiful, too, was the cinematography by Natasha Braier. I particularly loved the way Solier's face was constantly obscured because the character of Fausta is such a hidden present, constantly trying to go unnoticed.

And how about this shot with Fausta all but disappearing before our eyes. It took me a few seconds to even recognise that she was there!

It can be so heartening to see a filmmaker really utilise the widescreen. Watching directors like Brian De Palma and Pedro Almodovar and you really notice when a director knows how to get the most out of their screen. Some of the shots in The Milk of Sorrow really use the screen for some interesting widescreen compositions, don't you think?

One of the real big benefits that The Milk of Sorrow has in its pocket is the fact that Peruvian cinema is hardly the most frequent on the international cinema scene. It feels like a country so rarely even glimpsed on camera and some of the images put on screen feel so unique and wonderful, I'm so glad they were able to be seen. The giant boat? The mass desert wedding? Amazing sights that are immaculately shot.

I found it interesting that Fausta never once looks in a mirror for the entirety of the film – except for the moments she, quite literally, fixes her potato! – and in this scene it’s as if there are now two of one. The one that is sad and introspective and the other that can smile (she never smiles before this sequence) and one who realises she is important. When she realises she has inspired the musician it's like she becomes a new person.

Have you seen The Milk of Sorrow, and if so what did you think?


Noecitos said...

I love this movie so much!
If I had had a ballot this would have been my choice for Best Foreign Picture...
It is so mature and tragic! On the other hand I thought The Secret in Their Eyes to be a quite bland film...

GlenH said...

I was lucky enough to see it at a festival last year.

I'm very much in favour. I think it does a great job of taking some concepts that, when described might sound quite twee, (at least to a western audience) and investing them with a great deal of weight and meaning. (Although I should add that the past she's responding to in the film was very real: there was a very brutal conflict between communist guerrillas, the Shining Path, and the government in the 1980s.)
Which is not to say that the film is without a sense of humour. Would you agree that it contains the world's worst pick up line?

I definitely second your comments on the cinematography. I was literally holding my breath during the scene where they pick up the pearls.

My only vaguely remembered quibble would be that Magaly Solier's (Fausta) performance is at times a little too impassive. But given your comments it seems a rewatch is in order.

Guy said...

...and can only imagine how the same people can nominate this alongside, for instance, The Secret in Their Eyes.

Whisper it soft, but it wasn't the same people. The Milk of Sorrow was, shall we say, shoehorned into the final nominee list.

Can't say I got much out of the film myself, though as you say, it's awful purty.

Glenn Dunks said...

Well, there are various committees of the foreign language branch, but it still had to get enough votes to get into the final five, not just the top 9 executive committee list or whatever it's called.

Guy said...

That's the thing -- I am reliably informed that it actually didn't get enough votes to make the final five. It got an extra push from a senior committee member.