Before the Rain: Milcho Manchevski Oscar Nominated Film

“Before the Rain,” Milcho Manchevski’s Macedonian drama, is generating some good reviews and its recent Oscar nomination for the Best Foreign-Language Picture should elevate even more its visibility.

Dealing with the current Balkan wars, it’s an unusually ambitious if not entirely satisfying film. It’s also an art film of breathtaking beauty that has won a number of festival awards in Venice and Toronto. The opening sequence, which presents the calm, ancient beauty of the Macedonian landscape, is not only stunning but also an appropriate contrast to the violence that will erupt within its borders. The expansive vistas and wide blue skies just accentuate the ominous, impending storm.

The narrative is divided into three parts, each labeled in a literary way.

The first, “Words,” a tale of forbidden love set in a Greek Orthodox monastery, centers on Kiril (Gregoire Colin), a monk who has taken a vow of silence (hence the title). However, his promise is sorely tested, when Zamira (Labina Miteva), a beautiful Muslim girl, takes refuge in his room. When an army of Christian revengers shows up looking for Zamira–she’s accused of a murder–Kiril protects her and the two run away to her Albanian clan.

In the second and weakest part, “Faces,” the action moves abruptly to London and Anne, played by Katrin Cartlidge, who was wonderful in Mike Leigh’s “Naked).” Working in a photo agency, Anne is tormented between Aleksandar (Rade Serbedzija), her photographer-lover (and father of her unborn baby), who wants her to follow him, and Brit (Jay Villiers), her stuffy British husband, who offers a comfortable life.

Aleksandar provides the link to the final episode, “Pictures,” when he returns to his family in Macedonia. The prize-winning pro wants to forget the horrors he had witnessed and recorded. But how could he His village is still inflamed with the same ethnic hatred, splitting families apart along religious and political lines. The Christian villagers and their Muslim neighbors have been fighting forever.

“Before the Rain” integrates successfully the broader political forces into the protagonists’ daily lives. There’s a heartbreaking and suspenseful encounter, when Aleksandar visits his old girlfriend, and there’s a frightening scene in a chic London restaurant, where Anne and her husband are dining that suddenly turns into a ferocious bloodshed. Violence knows no limits or national boundaries.

Manchevski doesn’t take sides, and it’s refreshing that he doesn’t opt for simplistic resolutions that condemn the American politicians or the U.N. “peacekeeping” forces. As writer-director, he’s also effective in showing the explosive potential of these conflicts to erupt beyond their geographical borders.

Clearly, Manchevski wishes for his region not to go through the pain and horror that the rest of Yugoslavia is still suffering from. But the movie’s slick and “artsy” style of the movie, a possible result of the director’s music videos background, works against the seriousness of its issues; a simpler visual style would have been more forceful.

Ultimately, though, the film suffers from its plot trickery, which cannot be revealed without giving away the point of the story. Suffice is to say that the roundabout narrative comes full circle. For long stretches, the film is evocatively silent, but there’s a problem with the dialogue, which seems unable to articulate the conflict. The characters speak in a laconic, rather obscure language, telegraphing messages in half-broken sentences.

Despite some portentous elements, “Before the Rain” should be praised for at least trying to deal with relevant issues. Overtly political cinema has never been in vogue in the U.S., and recent European films have also shied away from politics.

Oscar Context:

Before the Rain competed for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, but did not win; the winner was Mikhalkov’s Burnt by the Sun, from Russia.