The Milk of Sorrow / La Teta Asustada

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Inherited trauma: the Peruvian Oscar-nominated "Milk of Sorrow"

Dec 8, 2010 (Updated Dec 9, 2010)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: OK

  • Action Factor:
  • Suspense:

Pros:long shots

Cons:monotone (affectless)

The Bottom Line: Unappealing magic in bleak magical realist portrayal of aftershocks of civil war atrocities


“La Teta Asustada” (The Milk of Sorrow), written and directed by Claudia llosa, is the last — and, alas, least — of the 2009 nominees for best foreign-language film Academy Awards to make it to DVD: a barebones DVD without even a trailer.

The movie opens with a tremulous voice singing in Quechua about being raped while she was pregnant, presumably in the Sendero Luminosa guerilla war (government troop reprisals were as brutal as the Maoist guerillas’ were, and there is no indication of which side). Eventually, the black screen shows a prone older woman, and later still a younger one singing back to her. Then the older one dies.

Eventually, we learn we are in a shantytown extension of Lima, Perú, and that the younger woman, named Fausta  (Magaly Solier) was in utero when her mother was raped and then drank the “milk of sorrow” from her mother’s breasts. Fausta looks plenty glum. I don’t think she smiles even once during the movie, even at the wedding celebration of her cousin, but even more than sorrow and PTSD, she seems to have inherited (or drunk) fearfulness.

Not only is she afraid to go outside alone, but she believes she must stay very close to walls so that ghosts don’t grab her. Her soul is hidden underground (where it is safer) and she has a potato growing in her vagina to discourage rapists. Yes, a bit of magic realism, though of a desperately melancholy and monotone sort. I realize that Fausta is frightened and all but struck dumb watching her mother's rape from inside and imbibing fear with her mother's milk. The movie shows the traumatized-in-utero girl and I would not want it to show (rather than sing) what happened, but timidity is not all that interesting to watch...

The dead mother is mummified but there is no money to return her for burial at their village. Fausta takes a job as a maid to a blanca (white) concert pianist of some eccentricity and melancholy of her own. She seems me a caricature of arbitrariness and untrustworthiness.

The movie closes with a beautiful image of coastal desert and has some striking scenes of a stairway up a completely barren hill to the shantytown. Most of the film is middle-distance shots with very few close-ups and no camera movement. Solier remains impassive with a helmet of bangs and loads of superstitions, as she continues to live her mother’s traumas. And the potato growing in her vagina is becoming life-threatening, whatever rape-deterrent effect it might have.

Though I did not loathe the movie as I did “White Ribbon,” I definitely cannot see why “The Milk of Sorrow” was nominated for the foreign-language film Oscar instead of the far superior Korean film, “Madô” (Mother). Despite my interest in Perú, I thought “The Milk of Sorrow” inferior not only to the Argentine winner of the Oscar, “The Secret in Their Eyes” (which also hinges on official acceptance of sexual violence), but the other two nominees: the French “A Prophet,” and Isreali “Ajami.” In contrast to the recalled grotesque violence in “The Milk of Sorrow,” the other four movies show considerable violence.

©2010, Stephen O. Murray

4 foshizzlee's foreign film writeoff


Recommend this product? No


Viewing Format: DVD

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