Reflections on a movie. The milk of sorrow: a story about violence, fear and the path to redemption | EVI PAPADOPOULOU

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Fausta is a young Peruvian woman who takes care of her helpless mother.1 The old woman narrates her tragic story by singing in her own language: she was raped during her pregnancy. Her fears and anxieties were passed on to Fausta through breast-feeding, as the title of the film indicates2. According to a folk Andean legend, women who were victims of sexual crimes transmit via maternal milk the sorrow and fear they experienced to their babies. This popular belief derives from European renaissance, in particular from the 14th century, when wealthy high class couples chose very carefully their children’s nurses, on the pretext of inheriting to babies by means of breast-feeding their corporeal and mental features3.

The young heroine suffers a terrible psychic trauma, as she mentions that she saw the crimes taking place when she was in her mother’s belly. As a result, she places a potato in her vagina in order to avoid the possibility of sexual harassment as well as any kind of sexual intimacy with men4. Inside her the potato grows and by its buds pierces her body, recalling in a painful way its presence. Sexual crimes taken place in Peru are also concealed but deeply rooted in the collective conscious. As the director implies, contemporary society still regards them as taboos and avoids talking about them. The only source of information in the film regarding this epoch are the songs of mother and daughter. Their stichomythias recall the drama of a generation going on until today.

The movie is also a testimony to life in the outskirts of capital Lima. It is about communities that despite their poverty try to follow the American way of life by converting their weddings and funerals to a sign of wealth and social recognition. The long cool shots of the arid and infinite Andean landscapes reverse the impression of fake luxury. Instead, they befit the character of the young woman, rough, inaccessible and hermetically distant.

Her mother’s death forces Fausta to overcome her fears and to cross the threshold of adult life. Redemption comes as the film reaches its final sequence. The protagonist carries the dead body to the sea and stares at the infiniteness of the ocean. She has finally fulfilled her mother’s desire and managed to liberate herself from the past. Silence and introversion inextricably intertwined with contemporary Peruvian history succumb at last to an optimistic regard of tomorrow, indissolubly tied with the preservation of memory, ‘‘official” and ‘‘unofficial”5

1 The Milk of sorrow, the original title La teta asustada, is a Spanish-Peruvian co-production of 2009 directed by Claudia Llosa. In 2009 the film won among other awards the Golden Bear and the FIPRESCI price at the International Film Festival of Berlin. In 2010 the film was nominated for the 82nd Academy Awards for best Foreign Language Picture.

2 The film refers to the 1980-1992 era when Peru experienced the violence of paramilitary and state armed forces. During this period a lot of women, especially dwellers of rural regions became victims of sexual violence. Their stories are preserved by the medical anthropologist Kimberly Theidon in her book Entre Prójimos: El conflicto armado interno y la política de la reconciliatión en el Perú, a major source of inspiration for the director of the movie. Information concerning the film and the research of Theidon can be found in the site http://praxisweb.org/execdir.aspx

3 Marilyn Yalom, History of the breast, translated into greek by Evi Kladouhou, Agra Editions, Athens 2006, p.71

4 Peru is widely considered as the place of origin of white potato. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potato

5 Maureen Hays-Mitchell, War, citizenship, territory, Routledge, New York 2008, σ.215