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“The Milk of Sorrow,” Reviewed

“The Milk of Sorrow,” Reviewed (photo)

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Fausta (Magaly Solier), the heroine of “The Milk of Sorrow,” Peru’s first Oscar-nominated film, is a beautiful, tremulous young woman of indigenous descent who’s afraid of walking home alone. She’s prone to sudden nosebleeds, scarcely speaks except to sing melancholy songs and has placed a potato in her hoo-ha as an rape prevention measure — it’s begun to sprout, causing her health problems, and she has to occasionally give the protruding roots a trim.

Her family finds her, unsurprisingly, a bit of a downer. They describe her as suffering from a malady, as being infected by “the milk of sorrow.” According to them, Fausta suckled dread along with breast milk from her mother, who was raped and horrifically abused during the height of Peru’s internal unrest, and now she’s “without a soul because it hid underground out of fear.”

Whether or not it’s due to this folk illness — and the doctor she’s taken to in Lima is dismissive — Fausta’s sadness doesn’t seem misplaced. On her deathbed, her mother recounts the terrible wrongs through which she suffered before passing. Fausta wants to have her laid to rest in the village in which she grew up, but can’t afford it, and her uncle has given all his money toward his daughter Máxima’s approaching wedding, the preparations for which everyone finds more enticing than the prospect of burying Fausta’s mother.

08262010_themillkofsorrow3.jpgThere’s no shortage of major themes stirred into Claudia Llosa’s second film (her debut, 2006’s “Madeinusa,” in which Solier also starred, was a hit on the festival circuit) — too many, really, for the film to handle.

A storyline in which Fausta starts working as a maid in the house of a wealthy, light-skinned professional pianist who coaxes her to share her songs, only to steal them for her own performance and dump Fausta in the street, comes across as a too easy jab at the country’s racism and class barriers. (The scene in which she’s instructed on the hygiene standards she’ll need to meet for the job says more with less.)

But the way “The Milk of Sorrow” handles trauma is near remarkable. There’s a lot of metaphor to pile on that poor potato, which serves as a literally blockage inside Fausta that’s growing and possibly killing her, but the larger idea of suffering as an illness is a sticky, astute one, not just because it acknowledges that atrocities are felt throughout a society for generations beyond the one that experiences them firsthand, but because it encompasses the avoidance those unaffected begin to practice. Fausta is, if not resented, certainly wearying to those who love her, who can’t relate to how she feels and want her to move on.

Her mother’s misfortune is, similarly, looked upon as something infectious that you could catch. Fausta’s not to blame for her condition, but she is a burden, a reminder of the terrible past when all her family wants to do is to live and look forward. They want her to heal, and begrudge the fact that she can’t seem to.

08272010_milkofsorrow2.jpgTheir behavior is exaggeratedly callous, particularly as seen through Fausta’s eyes — they start digging a grave for the corpse, only to get distracted by the heat and turn the hole into a swimming pool. After wrapping the body, they move it under the bed so that they can lay out Máxima’s wedding dress on top. It seems cruel, and yet Fausta’s inability to join them is draining the life out of her.

Solier does her best with the opaque role of Fausta, who wears heavy bangs cut low across her eyes like a layer of armor, but the film’s striking imagery, giving way to periodic wide shots in which people are dwarfed by the dry landscape looming behind, stands out more than any individual performance — a piano smashed in the center of a courtyard, a steep staircase up a mountainside, a parade of gifts danced in by the guests for the new brides and grooms.

“The Milk of Sorrow” opens in New York August 27th, and in Los Angeles September 3rd.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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