The Milk of Sorrow (La Teta Asustada) ~ (Peru, 2009) ~ Netflix Stream

Claudia Llosa’s La Tete Asustada was a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film at last year’s Oscars (won by the superb The Secret in Their Eyes – see TIFF ’09 Day 3). Rape as a war weapon is the back story here: the main character is the daughter of a rape victim from the civil war of the 1980’s in Peru – the Shining Path guerilla warfare period. After her mother dies, the daughter (Fausta), played with a frightened, vulnerable and damaged sense by Magaly Solier, is sent to attend on a well-off pianist to make some money for funeral expenses. As she works, Fausta sings songs she heard her mother sing, and her employee asks her to sing more of them. The mistress (Aida) agrees to pay Fausta one pearl each time she sings one of her songs. When Aida steals one of Fausta’s songs, performs it in concert, and refuses to pay Fausta as promised, we see that oppression and class distinction lingers on in contemporary Peru.

The title comes from Peruvian folklore, that a mother’s milk passes on the sorrows of the mother to the daughter. Fausta has become so traumatized and fearful herself because of what happened to her mother, that she implants a potato in her vagina to ward off unwanted sexual contact.

The film is filled with great imagery (a smashed piano in a courtyard is one). The several scenes with Fausta and Aida are perfect: in composition, imagery, and as class juxtapositions. The images are all subtle, and these scenes contrast with those shown of village life (there’s a wedding scene – I love these in film). Both Magaly Solier and director/writer Claudia Llosa (Mario Vargas Llosa’s niece) won several awards for their work here.

A quiet, intimate and lovely film, but not one that particularly pulls everything together. The ending seemed flat, which was too bad.

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