Tragedy, Passed Down From Mother to Daughter, in The Milk of Sorrow


In this wonderfully strange, hypnotically beautiful second feature from writer-director Claudia Llosa (MADEINUSA), the traumatic experience of the 1980s civil war on Peruvian women is passed down through song and, it is said, through their mothers’ milk. Fausta (Magaly Solier) is a shy young villager so terrorized by memories of rape sung to her by her mother that she keeps a potato in her vagina as protection (“Only revulsion stops revolting people”). The poker-faced young woman carefully trims the roots as they grow—just one instance of Llosa’s visceral approach to sex, death, and the body, and her confident handling of the thin line between tragedy and black comedy. Llosa’s striking shooting style—lost souls wander silently in and out of frame—evokes a crippled nation whose citizens have lost the power to communicate directly. The movie, which won the Golden Bear at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival, is littered with unforgettable images of incongruity (an orgy of frothy wedding dresses amid dire poverty), destruction (an aerial view of a smashed piano, and two women scrambling for pearls across a class divide), and, finally, healing, in which a taciturn man who makes things grow offers Fausta a way out of her fear and the means to bury her beloved mother.