Wednesday, 28 October 2009

London Film Festival – The Milk of Sorrow

For the past week the 53rd London Film Festival has been taking place across various venues in the capital. There have been plenty of big name films this year including three George Clooney premiers, however as I'm not a BFI member and am also poor I saw none of the big films. My approach to the London Film Festival was to browse through the programme, see what sounded interesting, pray there were some seats left and book a ticket. In the end I ended up seeing four films, the first being The Milk of Sorrow.

It sounded interesting, to me anyway. A Peruvian film which was the winner of the Golden Bear at this years Berlin Film Festival. The screening was taking place at the Vue West End which I was looking forward to visiting as it has a very cosy bar. Naturally the bar was closed for a private function when I was there though. The screening took place in a “intimate” (read: small) screen. We were lucky enough to get a brief introduction from the cinematographer of the film. She provided some brief background about the story of the film but didn't say much about the making of the film itself. It was nice to see her there and made the screening feel a bit more special.

The film revolves around Fausta, a young Peruvian girl whose mother has suffered through terrible atrocities during wartime in Peru. A Peruvian myth is that women who were raped or tortured during wartime carry their sorrow in their breast milk, which is passed on to their daughters. Indeed the cinematographer informed us in her introduction that the direct translation of the original Peruvian title is “The Frightened Tit.” Fausta's mothers ordeal has a profound affect on Fausta herself. Terrified and confused she has inserted a potato in her nether regions to stop what happened to her mother happening to her. We follow Fausta as she deals with her mothers death, and we follow Fausta's growing of character as she takes on a job as a maid to raise enough money to give her mother a decent send off. We also get to know about Fausta's home life, where she lives with her uncle, aunt and cousins.

Fausta's journey is largely intriguing but the film moves at a sometimes glacial pace. This suits the story for the most part as a film about a young girl with a potato in her initimates dealing with the death of her abused mother is not going to be a knockabout farce. But unfortunately the slow pacing does occasionally threaten to kill the film dead. Luckily the superb cinematography means there's also something wonderful to look at even if not much is happening story wise. The film is also punctuated with lively scenes of Peruvian life. These scenes, especially the ones revolving around the weddings that Fausta's uncle and aunt help organise, are filled with a humour and energy that left me with a buzz that helped me get through the slower parts of the film.

Director Claudia Llosa has produced a worthy film which gives a sometimes fascinating look at a part of the world that is rarely seen in Western cinema. The insight into Peruvian folklore and culture is interesting and come across on screen well. A lovely soundtrack featuring traditional guitar playing and unaccompanied singing add to the drama.

Although the cinematographer was supposed to return at the end of the screening to answer questions she never reappeared, which was a shame. It was a good start to the festival nonetheless.

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