Raiding the Archives: Milk of Sorrow

Apparently there are going to only three installments of me raiding the archives because I overestimated how much I have actually written. I do have things to catch up on writing about though WOO!

The Milk of Sorrow is simply about a woman who must get a job in order to pay for her mother’s funeral. Or as the tagline puts it “A journey from fear to freedom”. Fausta is a young woman who is consumed by fear to such an extent that the majority of her dialog is either spent with her singing to assuage her discomfort or to speak about death. The rest of Fausta’s movements are her sitting through uncomfortable silence because of her uneasiness with those around her or attempting to communicate something or just anything to a few of those around her.

The movie begins with Fausta’s mother singing to her as she lays on her death bed, after this brief scene, it’s cut to her cousin who whines and begs to her uncle about the fact that she needs the dress to be longer. The uncle constantly replies and phrases the fact that he has no money for any extra clothe. And this is how much of subplot is presented, juxtaposing weddings that attempt to be extravagent while they suffer in abject poverty. There is a sadly ironic scene where there is a fake backdrop positioned so a new couple could take a couple photos to a vacation that they could never afford, and the picture is shot so far out that the majority of background consists of the housing and poverty they live in. Another marriage sequence in movie takes place in a mass wedding where there are roughly two dozen couples who get married en masse in hopes that one couple will win a prize “starter marriage kit” which consists of a new bed, television, rug, and other furnishing.

After her uncle finds out his sister is dead, via Fausta passing out while trying to tell him, he takes her to the hospital. Before finding out the answer her uncle attempts to explain that she has always been a sick child because when she was young she was breastfeed by a fearful woman (friend of her mother’s) in order to not be raped by the terrorists. Her uncle concludes that her behavior her entire life is based on this, calling it the “milk of sorrow”. The doctor stares at him in a moment of confusion before revealing to him why she was there.

Doctor: Did you know your niece had a potato in her vagina?
Uncle Lúcido: No, I didn’t know about that. It must have gotten in there by itself. There’s lots of food at home.

Why did she stick a potato in her vagina? Fear. When she was a child, her mother would constantly tell her stories about the terrible things that either happened to her or other Indigenous women. It can be assumed that somewhere along the line she was told this particularly potato story about a woman who though was not able to escape rape, she was at least able to forego the possibility of becoming pregnant as result of the rape. And with these, is the result of her entire character and little quirks like never wanted to walk by herself. Or constantly walking by the walls in her village, according to her, her brother died as a result of walking in the middle of the road and he became so ill that he was as thin as a skeleton before death.

The rest of the movie takes place as a critique between maybe not the European bourgeious, but certainly Europeans within Peru, and their relation with the Indigenous. Fausta is hired as a maid for a well-to-do European woman who essentially lives in a castle compared not only to Fausta far off home, but directly contrasting against the market place where the poor shop just literal footsteps outside of her home. Fausta is often asked to sing for woman in exchange in payment for her pearls, which become the equivalent of her selling her soul as she is often goaded into singing to get her payment. Unfortunately, she is fired and never paid after the European woman uses he music for her concert. Going so far as to kick her out in the street on the ride back.

A quick sidebar: One thing that I noticed in the film and wasn’t spoken on was the inclusion of all 4 racial factions in Peru. Granted this didn’t have any plot or thematic purposes, but I felt it was a nice subtle reference to the people of Peru and a nice hint at the socio-economic factions that reside. All four of the normally impoverished  groups in Latin America: Black Hispanics, Natives, Hispanics and Europeans. The first three all worked for the Europeans within the mansion set in the middle of the market place.

I know people have a natural aversion to knowing the ending of movies, so I won’t go into it even if I divulged far more of the plot than I wanted to. So I’ll just leave with my favorite second favorite shot in the movie.

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About panamaenrique

Afro-Latino film lover in NYC. I love blues, jazz, soul, funk, and everything else under the sun. Any questions, comments, or concerns about anything I say, feel free to hit me up. My contact info is there and I'll be sure to give you a lengthy response about what I said and why I said it.
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One Response to Raiding the Archives: Milk of Sorrow

  1. As with Annie, it’s the opening number that sets the tone. A very old, very ill Peruvian woman sings about how she was brutally raped and forced to eat her murdered husband’s penis (seasoned with gunpowder) during the guerrilla uprisings of the 1980s. Then she dies. It’s extraordinary: an immediately arresting mix of the mordant and the moving. The rest of the movie – winner of the Golden Bear in Berlin, nominated for a best foreign language Oscar – continues in the same key, as the focus shifts to her daughter, Fausta, who has inserted a potato into her vagina for fear she’ll suffer the same fate. “It must have gotten in there by itself,” protests her uncle to a doctor. “There’s lots of food at home.” Fausta’s bleeding he ascribes to the “milk of sorrow”: trauma passed to children through the breast milk of their distressed mothers. The legacy of upset is at the heart of Llosa’s brilliant film – and it’s a film that wears its heart firmly on its sleeve. But it’s also surprisingly subtle and funny, more concerned with the everyday objects and encounters – wedding cakes and pet pigeons – than with gender politics. Its optimism is evidence of its virtuosity.

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