out of Five
Running time: 94
The Milk of Sorrow is beautifully shot and features a striking performance by Magaly Solier but it's also heavily allegorical, frequently impenetrable and ultimately frustrating.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Claudia Llosa, The Milk of Sorrow (La Teta Asustada, original language fans; literally 'the frightened tit') opens with Perpetua (Barbara Lazon) singing an emotive song about being raped by terrorists and then being forced to eat her just-murdered husband's penis. It transpires that Perpetua is the mother of Fausta (Magaly Solier), who has apparently inherited her mother's fear via breast-feeding and, as a result, has inserted a potato into her vagina in order to avoid being raped.
When Perpetua dies, Fausta needs to earn enough money to bury her, but first she mummifies her and keeps her under the bed. She then takes a job with wealthy white pianist Aida (Susi Sanchez) and helps out with her uncle's wedding business, but her health is threatened when the potato starts to sprout roots.
Magaly Solier delivers a striking performance that is utterly mesmerising – her beautiful, impassive face almost never moves and she has hardly any dialogue, but you can't take your eyes off her. She also has a habit of singing to express her emotions (much as her mother did in the opening scene) which is extremely moving and, like almost everything else in the film, heavily symbolic, since Aida later steals one of her songs and uses it in her piano recital.
The film is beautifully shot, courtesy of Natasha Braier's gorgeous cinematography; several of the shots could be framed and sold as works of art. There's also a fair amount of humour in the film, mostly circulating around the preparations for the wedding and the bride's insistence on a comically long bridal train.
The main difficulty with the film (at least for those unfamiliar with Peruvian culture and history) is that the film is so heavily allegorical (corpses under beds, potatoes in vaginas, a lot of stuff about pearls, stolen songs) that it's frequently impenetrable. Similarly, Llosa's direction and editing keep the viewer at an emotional distance that can be frustrating.
The Milk of Sorrow is visually striking and features a strong performance from Magaly Solier but its frequent use of heavily impenetrable allegories mean that its appeal is likely to be limited to hardcore arthouse aficionados.
Milk Of Sorrow, The (La Teta Asustada) (12A)