By Jeff Farr
How To Get Your Ex Girlfriend Back black; font-size: 10pt”>Olive Films, August 20
Claudia Llosa’s second feature, “The Milk of Sorrow,” shows that this young director from Spain has the potential to become a major force in world cinema. Llosa, working with cinematographer Natasha Braier, delivers a surprising visual style, which makes the film worthy of its nomination for the best foreign film last year.
Take, for instance, a scene where Fausta (Magaly Solier), the film’s perpetually petrified heroine, is mysteriously walking backward toward the mansion where she has gotten a job as a maid. Llosa then cuts to Fausta’s point of view, showing a group of men carrying a new piano into the house.
The film begins with a clever image: the screen is black as a woman sings a strange, rambling, and disturbing song about rape. We fade in on the singer, an old woman, Fausta’s mother, continuing to sing, seemingly to herself, with her eyes closed in bed.
Another woman’s singing voice joins her from off screen. It is the beautiful Fausta, who enters the frame from the side to sing into her mother’s ear. The song, as it turns out, is actually a conversation between mother and daughter.
Moments later, Fausta’s mother has died, and Fausta’s journey into the world has been forced upon her. She has no real friends other than her mother in the Peruvian shantytown where she lives. Painfully withdrawn, embarrassingly inarticulate, and fearful of all things—especially men, although she does trust and rely on her uncle (Marino Ballon)—Fausta is a wreck.
When Fausta suddenly passes out at her uncle’s house, he takes her right away to the local hospital, where she receives an unusual diagnosis. She has a potato lodged in her vagina, and it is actually growing there, inflaming her uterus. Her uncle, however, insists to the doctor that her true problem is an illness called the “milk of sorrow”—extreme anxiety transmitted via her mother’s breast milk, when Fausta was a baby in times of terrorism.
It is a bit hard to know how to take all of this at first. For the most part, Llosa takes Fausta’s plight seriously. We soon realize that Fausta inserted the potato to protect herself–and not just from men. This potato is symbolic of her aversion to the entire adult world outside the special bond she had shared with her mother.
It is Fausta’s strong desire to have her mother buried in their village that motivates her to start venturing out of her safety zone. She needs money to buy a coffin and transport her mother’s body there, and so she begins her job, apparently her first, as a maid.
Through her employment, Fausta meets two people who show considerable concern for her and help her to start facing her fears. There is the professional singer (Susi Sanchez) who owns the house and a kindly gardener (Efrain Solis) who works there.
Fausta’s difficult assimilation into society is contrasted throughout with her uncle’s daughter’s preparations to enter married life. Her cousin’s easy embrace of everything conventional—a relatively elaborate wedding to a regular guy, a predictable life with lots of kids likely to follow—is not an option for the troubled Fausta.
Her overly superstitious uncle at one point wants to bury Fausta’s mother in his own backyard, not wanting her sad spirit anywhere above ground when the wedding is to take place. The mother’s ghost and her “milk of sorrow” are clearly not invited. But Fausta convinces him to stop digging the grave, when she promises to deliver her mother’s body back to their village before the ceremony takes place.
This leads into another of Llosa’s nice visual tricks. It appears that Fausta’s uncle has started digging the grave again, and it has grown much bigger and deeper. Is the body already in the grave? Panicked, Fausta rushes over to try to stop him, only to find that the grave is now filled with children splashing in water: it has become the impoverished family’s new swimming pool instead.
Llosa has found a perfect Fausta in Solier, who is adept at conveying with few words the childlike qualities and fearfulness of this woman-child. We see her tenderness with her mother, first of all, then her bewilderment with everything around her, and, toward the end of the film, the start of her awakening as a woman.
Hopefully, “Milk of Sorrow” will not be known as “the movie about the girl with a potato growing in her vagina.” Outrageous as the premise is, this is a solid coming-of-age story handled with considerable visual flair, well acted and directed.
The film’s only drawback is that the story itself is predictable, a young person coming out of her shell through the power of new friends. It would be nice to see Llosa match her gift for visual surprise with a more surprising story.
Fausta – Magaly Solier
Aida – Susi Sanchez
Noe – Efrain Solis
Tio Lucido – Marino Ballon
An Olive Films release.
Produced by Anotonio Chavarrias, Jose Maria Morales, Claudia Llosa.
Directed by Claudia Llosa.
Screenplay by Claudia Llosa.
Director of Photography, Natasha Braier.
Editor, Frank Gutierrez.
Art Directors, Susan Torres, Patricia Bueno.
Running time: 100 Minutes.