La teta asustada (2009)
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Though the plot itself may seem awkward, the movie is a group of 95 minutes rich and beautiful images. The pearls, the potato, the dog, the wedding, the impoverished suburban Lima, everything is accurately directed and carefully thought by Ms. Llosa.
Fausta (outstanding Magaly Solier) is suffering from The frightened tit, an illness that she caught through her mother's breast-milk since her pregnancy happened during the 1980s and 90s terrorism and State violence in the Andes. Now in Lima, Fausta is afraid, she's put a potato in her vagina in order to protect her from being raped, and after her mother dies she finally has to deal with the real life and face her fears,starting to work in a high- class house as a made.
The plot of the movie is fictitious, but it lies on a cruel and past reality of Peru's modern history, combining it with a delicate halo of surrealism, magic realism and sometimes ironic humor. The image of the potato -all time Peruvian ingredient for cuisine- involves the subject of a war and a fear that affected an entire country, though our differences may not accept it yet. The scenes in Fausta's home are the opposite where she works: though the high-class house is in the same impoverished area (another reference to Peruvian social differences), over there is no gray, no dust: there are plants, color, life.
At the end, Fausta realizes that in the root of her fears is the solution of them. The movie, indeed, is presented as a cure for the unhealed wounds of a terrible and recent war that happened on Peruvian soil.
Fausta is a poor woman living in the mountains of Peru whose mother has died and because she cannot afford a burial, she puts her under a bed with a wedding dress on top of the dearly departed mom. Fausta was told repeatedly as a child growing up, of her mother's gang rape. She was never sure who her father was. As a result of the trauma, Fausta has inserted a potato into her vagina as a protection against rape; I am not making this up.
Fausta is hired by a wealthy pianist to work as a servant. The employer hears her singing songs learned from her mother. She offers her a beads from a broken necklace, but when the woman repeats the music at a concert and receives applause, she fires Fausta without giving her the pearls promised. Magaky Solier plays Fausta in a very subdued, low key manner, which fits the cold and dark tone of the film. The subject matter is grim, but it is based on reality, so expect ninety four minutes of a sad but compelling story.
Llosa observes the social realities of Latin America (post-colonialism, class division, political violence), but avoids providing facile solutions. Instead, she focuses her attention on Fausta's more personal need for spiritual freedom. She does so with quiet, subtle humor and an eye for striking, poetic imagery.
I highly recommend watching this Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film and winner of the Berlin International Film Festival.
Mastery at low-budget cinematic skill should be credited to Bollywood (the Mumbai-based Hindi language film industry) films, which may not be the most groundbreaking in technical or screen writing terms, but contain music in the form of song-and-dance numbers woven into the script in order to appeal to all segments of the audience and maximise box office receipts. Since Hollywood's multi-million budgets would never have helped shoot realistic and colourful, but rough Brazilian imagery, 'Central Station' (1998) and 'Cidade de Deus' (2002) garnered indisputable acclaim at renowned film festivals after being funded on their own. The example set by off-Hollywood movie makers' efforts have become heroic in countries where movie industry budgets are, to say the least, scarce.
This is the case for LTA. It could have been more on par to Danny Boyle's 'Slumdog Millionaire' if it wasn't for the Peruvian-Spanish meagre budget available to Peruvian young director Claudia Llosa. If you expect to see acting beaus or beautés, famous screenwriters and crew, expensive car explosions or CGI, go elsewhere. LTA is neat magic-realism, a territory where people may be poor but not disgusting, where their houses are mere recreation centres for fantasy and everyday life to play happily together. Only time will tell if the trend keeps up, spreads globally, and ends up being called Globbywood.
This is a well-told tale of hope where only two professional actors are involved. And this was as clear to Berlinale judges as it is for the general public -those with a thirst for veritable, honest, witty craftsmanship at film-making.
"La Teta Assustada" is an exotic but boring and unpleasant low budget movie. The story is developed in slow-pace and probably will please viewers of the First World that maybe have never seen a slum and poor people like the dweller of Fausta's community. Magaly Solier has a great performance and her exotic beauty is impressive. The translation of the title of this film to English ("The Milk of Sorrow") is ridiculous since the correct translation would be "The Frightened Teat". The summary in IMDb from Pusan International Film Festival is ridiculous and the author has certainly not understood the story; or maybe the translation from Spanish was wrong. My vote is six.
Title (Brazil): "A Teta Assustada" ("The Frightened Teat")
The pacing might seem awkward, some twists in the story line and/or character arc, might not be accessible to some viewers, but all those things make the movie even better. At least that's how I see it. Still as this is a movie that provokes or encourages you to think a lot, there might come up a few questions, story-wise and or character-wise that might leave you with a slightly bad taste.
And although up until now the review the user GeneralGrievous gave hasn't received positive feedback, you have to cut the guy some slack. If you read his review, you can understand why he didn't like the movie quite as much. I thought his review was helpful, even though I don't agree on everything he writes, because he explains not only why he thinks that way, but he gives a few glimpses into his knowledge of Peruvian film-making.
As the story begins, we see her with her mother who is singing a strange song, in Quechuan. Nothing seems to indicate she is suffering from an illness, but as the singing stops, the lady dies. Fausta is shocked when she realizes what has just happened. After accepting the fact about her mother, she must bury her. The uncle has already started to dig a spot in back of the house to serve as a tomb. Fausta does not have a lot of money. A visit to the undertakers prove to be useless, for she cannot afford to even buy the cheapest kind of funeral. In spite of that, Fausta and the women relatives, prepare the body by wrapping it in a sort of a shroud.
With the problem still at hand, Fausta is engaged as a maid in the home of a lady pianist. Her instructions are not to let any strangers in the house. The place is adjacent to what seems to be a public market. Fausta, a shy woman is amazed by what she finds in the fancy home, but she never gets close to the lady of the house. The breaking of a string of pearls, brings the maid to help the lady, who promises to give Fausta the pearls, eventually. The only person that is closer to the girl is the gardener, a man that, at times ogles the young girl with more than necessary, but nothing happens between them.
We witness a few garish weddings happening at the compound where Fausta's uncle lives. The family makes extra money by preparing these weddings, catering them, and providing entertainment. Sometimes Fausta helps serve the guests. After Fausta gets the pearls, her desire to bury the mother comes a possibility. We watch her and the relatives as they travel to a desert near the Pacific. Fausta knows exactly where will be her mother's resting place. The final shots of the film are full of symbolism. Fausta finds a small pot where two potatoes have flowered into a small plant.
Claudia LLosa, the Peruvian creator of this film, sets her film among the poor classes in a Lima suburb populated by the destitute. The place is not a ghetto, by any means, the only thing in common with that, would be the poor housing where the people in the story live. The area is located in hills with steep stairs that are used by the locals to come to town. Fausta is a symbol of the oppressed classes by representing a small part of that culture. Ignorance and superstition are rampant among the population, where even a doctor is questioned when it is evident Fausta has something that will lead to a bigger problem if not treated properly.
In Magaly Solier, Ms. LLosa has found a girl that personifies the type of individual she is supposed to be. Not having seen this actress before, or for that matter, any of the cast, seems to be a triumph for the director in getting the results she wanted to present. The character of Fausta is an enigma to most viewers. She is an aloof presence in the film. It is through her eyes the story is seen.
Natasha Braier, the cinematographer captured the dreary locales in which the film is set with somber reverence. The music is by Selma Mutal, relying in the type of musical influence from the group at the center of the story. Ms. LLosa's film is highly feminine, showing an innate talent for great things to come.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. I went with three friends. None of us really enjoyed the film. The rest of the audience? The best description I have of the expressions in their faces when the end credits started to roll is the following: "wtf?" Some of them even left early or the moment the credits started, not even waiting to see how had directed or performed in the film. As much as it saddens me, The Milk of Sorrow is proof that not only "artsy", independent movies are masterpieces, and that one doesn't always have to agree with the members of a jury giving a supposedly prestigious award.
The thing about The Milk of Sorrow is that it's got a premise, but that's it. No story. No narrative. It almost seems as if Llosa wanted to start something but didn't know how, and instead preferred to chronicle the life of her young protagonist. This might seem all right, but all that we're doing is witnessing the way she lives and deals with her problems. The movie goes nowhere. We know she's afraid of going outside, of being alone; we know she's got a potato inside her vagina acting as some kind tampon, and that she believes in the "milk of sorrow" disease. We've got issues, but nothing else. The film almost seems like a documentary in that there's very little narrative to speak of, and that it seems more concerned in watching these characters instead of making the audience sympathize with them.
Magaly Solier is not a bad actress. Although I didn't enjoy Madeinusa that much either, she was pretty good in it, but here she's wasted. It's not that she gives a bad performance, it's that her character is poorly written. How can one sympathize with her and her situation when Fausta has virtually no personality? She almost seems like a zombie walking through the world, barely talking and barely expressing herself. I know there are people like that, and I know she's supposed to be traumatized and fearful, but that doesn't mean she's stopped being a human being. She is a woman, and Llosa is supposed to make the viewer believe in the fact that she's a real woman. But this doesn't happen. I liked when she sang – it's not only a great cultural thing, but it also gave a little characterization to Fausta – but I hated the way she was underwritten.
I know many people will say I didn't get the movie, and that's why I didn't like it. Well, I must say I actually got it, that's the point. Besides, there's not much to get. It's not a terribly complex film, which is good. It's a psychological and sociological analysis of the trauma that these people experienced due to Sendero Luminoso and the armed forces, and the beliefs they have. It's a very interesting cultural study and it all feels real because it is, but that doesn't mean it's a very good film. Maybe if it had been done in the form of a documentary it would have worked better, but as a supposed narrative, it doesn't really flow because there's no plot to speak of and characters are boring. There are themes and ideas, to be sure, but does that mean it's got to be an amazing picture? Technically, the film's really good, I guess. Unlike other Peruvian productions, it doesn't look as if the film was shot with a video-camera. The 35 mm film does the movie a lot of good, giving it a very dreamy, serious look. It's all very realistic, but at times it's very beautiful too. Llosa's slow-moving, sometimes very still camera is appropriate for the material, but the film's pacing is off. I have nothing against slow films (actually, some of my favorite movies are very slow ones) but The Milk of Sorrow is just too slow, and for no apparent reason. It definitely gives the movie a dreamy sort of quality, but the filmmakers also risk losing their audience. The movie is only 94 minutes long, but it surely feels a lot longer. Did the film need to be slow? I don't think so.
I really wanted to like The Milk of Sorrow. Technically, it's superior to other Peruvian productions, and performances are solid, but the movie's main problem is that it doesn't work at all as a narrative. There's very little plot to speak of and characters – especially Fausta, the protagonist – are zombies. I appreciate what Claudia Llosa tried to do – actually, I admire it, mainly because, from watching the film, it's apparent a lot of effort went into the making of the production. But the fact that I admire the filmmakers and what they were trying to do doesn't mean I have to like the movie. Unfortunately, although many independent and/or artsy movies are really, really good (a pleasant change from Hollywood's loud and noisy productions), not all of them are as good as one would want them to be. La Teta Asustada had lots of potential, but sadly it didn't fulfill them. Hopefully, Llosa's next film will be superior.
(Rating: 3 by A.J. Malouin.) (See our side-bar page "How We Rate Movies" at www.What-To-See-Next.com)
(2009/Spain/Peru. Directed by Claudia Llosa.) Here's a film that could sustain its Best-Foreign-Film Academy-Award nomination on the basis of its cinematography alone. Beautiful in composition and execution, "La teta asustada" ["The Milk of Sorrow"] is -- from first shots to last -- a joy to view.
This is a fine thing, because the film is a tad slow-moving until we get totally into it.
It opens with a beautiful, singing set piece of a young woman's mother dying.
It ends with that same woman leaning over to enjoy the fragrance of a flowering potato plant.
In between, the young woman undergoes an visually intoxicating journey from fears of the past to hopes of the future.
It's such a beautiful journey that, 24 hours after viewing it, this writer dreams of viewing it again. <!--more-->
"La teta asustada" is a story of fact and fable.
It's a fact that the young woman's mother was raped during warfare while she was pregnant with the young woman. It's a fact that the mother taught the young woman to create and sing little songs whenever she is frightened. It's also a fact that the young woman is frightened much of the time. She has taken drastic measures to overcome her biggest fear.
What is fable is that the young woman's fears were inherited from her mother by suckling that mother's breast milk.
The film is full of everyday scenes of how the poor live on the outskirts of Lima, Peru. It's also full of scenes that take place inside and on the grounds of "the big house" where the young woman has gone to work as the night maid.
"La teta asustada" is full of native Peruvian ceremonial courtship and wedding customs, beautiful Peruvian song and music, and exquisitely composed shots of the Peruvian landscape.
Overriding it all, however, is the tangible, taste-able sadness and fear of the young woman. Over the course of 94 gorgeous minutes, that sadness and fear is gently, soulfully left behind, at the seashore, in a hospital operating room, and at the hands of a gentle gardener who comes to see the beauty in the wonderful simplicity of a flowering potato plant.
As with all of our most rewarding film experiences, it's difficult to put into words all the emotions and images this film releases in the heart of its viewers.
Once you've seen "La teta asustada," however, simple things like pearls, potatoes, sand, and stairways will never look the same to you again. Don't deny yourself these sad, simple, beautiful pleasures
As an American living in Lima, Peru for 2 years, I try hard to immerse myself in the language and culture here - as many expatriates also do. I think native Peruvians may see this film as not having an overwhelming theme or not ending with definitive answers to difficult issues.
What I think this film does do very well is give a unique perspective into the life of a class of person that many middle and upper class people are curious about. For me it was a slice of a person's life in which I could experience first-hand, alongside the protagonist. It is unlikely that in real life, could I visit these same places, step into their houses, share their conversations and experience their most intimate thoughts.
Personally I like the fact that the film does not close with a sense of some deep satisfaction that a difficulty has been resolved and people are now free to live with closure. Often times this can give an audience false assurance that all is well, no need to act, everything is now OK, if the problem can be resolved in the movie, it will take care of itself in reality. Instead, Llosa gives us a mere slice of life for these Peruvian characters and it is up to the audience to decide if or how to participate solving these issues in reality, and those issues are many fold.
The budget was not expansive, but the true beauty was the characters. This is a movie where I believe Llosa didn't intend to spell everything out, but make the viewer have to think and ask questions.
If you are looking for a poetic and beautiful journey of a story, this film is exactly that.
Her mother proceeds to pass away while Fausta serenades her after her mother stops singing. Fausta goes next door where she begins to bleed and a pool of blood between her legs on the ground starts to form. The girls scream out that Fausta is bleeding again – making it seem like this is a normal occurrence. The next scene shows Fausta at the doctor being asked if she's a virgin and she responds that she doesn't know. The nurse explains she has a "potato" in her vagina and she doesn't want anybody to take it out.
The rest of the movie follows Fausta where she must make a few tough decisions. She wants to earn enough money to transport her mother back and have her buried in their small-town village. However, the job she has makes her question whether she is going to continuing living in fear or if she is going to overcome The Milk of Sorrow. Lastly, the potato begins to affect her health and she must decide whether to keep it or not. The movie is very heartfelt and unpredictable which makes it that much more enjoyable. I recommend you watch this movie and pay close attention to all the different turns it takes.
The film begins abruptly with a story of sexual violence and atrocious violations of a woman's rights. This would be jarring enough on its own, but the movie presents the story through the song of an aging, dying woman, who lies in her death bed. This opening sets up the rest of the movie, a trance-like journey through the hate-filled, violence-filled, discrimination-filled life of Fausta, a poor indigenous woman of Perú, who's soul has been crushed by the boot of an oppressive past. From one scene to the next the viewer slowly comes to know Fausta, piece by piece. However, like the pearl necklace that Fausta tries to earn with her voice, the picture is never truly completed.
I can't say that I liked or enjoyed this movie. I really didn't. It was incredibly painful to sit through, and I found myself disgusted and angry at everyone in it. But that is the point. The film is meant to paint a picture of the harsh reality of a society who for centuries upon centuries has been ruled by violence. Everyone in Fausta's life seems to take advantage of her. From her uncle to her employer, to the doctor supposedly sworn to heal, Fausta is abused, used, and forgotten. The film is a harsh, but accurate depiction of the worst side of humanity, and while it's hard to look at, it is necessary. Watching the film should remind the viewer that we as a species have a great potential for harm, and that this potential is so easily realised. The movie shows us that doing evil is easy. It's the easiest thing in the world. The hard thing is being good. And most of the time, we fail at it. Most of the time, evil is where we end up.
What Claudia Llosa has done perfectly here is capture the undertones of race, sex, and class that define so much of most modern societies. Fausta fears rape and this fear is especially valid given that she is an indigenous woman. If Fausta were not both indigenous and a woman, the threat of rape or any other form of violation would not be so understandable. Native people in Peru are often limited by a governmental/societal system that not only devalues them, but actively targeted them in the recent past. Though Fausta's fears stem from the past treatment of indigenous woman in Peru, her boss's duplicity is a product of a modern social structure that has not changed too drastically from previous decades. This is the context that makes her boss's strong reaction to her quiet comments so powerful. How dare Fausta, a poor indigenous woman, try to take any credit for her own work? Fausta attacked Peru's system of societal system by simply acknowledging it, when quiet acceptance of the creative theft was the expectation. In La Teta Asustada, Llosa displays the two extremes of oppression. The first being violence, and the latter silence.
The film's title stems from the commonly held belief that Fausta suffers from a disease transmitted to her from her mother during breast-feeding. Prior to her death, Fausta's mother sings about the horrible violence she endured earlier in life. She and her family believe her mother's fears were thus transmitted to Fausta. This "illness" manifests itself through various "symptoms," such as Fausta's reluctance to go out and do anything without the company of an individual she trusts, as well as through her shocking decision to place a potato inside her vagina in hopes of preventing rape.
Overall, the plot revolves around Fausta overcoming these fears, in addition to her marginalized role as a poor, indigenous woman, in order to obtain enough money to afford a proper burial for her mother's corpse.
The main criticism I offer regarding this film is that it falls short of providing both insight into and a brief history of the horrific violence that surged through Peru in the late 1900s. In providing the audience with a world-view likely unfamiliar to them, Llosa assumes that the viewer is familiar with this violence, which may lead to confusion at various points. Without background information, it is easy for the viewer to assume Fausta's fears are completely and utterly irrational, which I believe can be detrimental to the viewing experience.
There's a lot of raw, suppressed emotion just barely revealed through each scene's subtleties, often played against the forthrightness of Fausta's mother singing about her rape and hope for a better life, and Fausta herself recites songs from her culture in the face of a modern oppressor, hearkening back to Peru's violent past. Those injustices are reevoked by Fausta's employer, to whom she is a servant, by her promising Fausta pearls if she sings—though this seems more like coercion—and she then steals her cultural songs.
Audiences might find some distaste or a strong sense of confusion at hearing about Fausta's method of preventing rape using a potato—forced on her by a neighbor when she was a child, no less. The anxiety of this being the reality haunts the viewer in the same way that la teta asustada haunts Fausta. Remorse and tension also arise when it's clear that Fausta's mother's mummified remains have been kept in the house in lieu of a proper burial. Though belief that the significance lies again with Peru's history, the film leaves much more to interpretation. In truth, it could have very little to do with El Sendero Luminoso, but the fact that Fausta is cursed by la teta asustada suggests otherwise.
La teta asustada is not clear about its own meaning, and perhaps that's for the better. To be indirect about an obvious fact may emphasize the directness of the commentary on it, so the director's decision to keep things vague yet well-established in a world of social inequity may entice viewers to recognize past happenings that were once kept secret. Being aesthetically pleasing—though in an off-putting way—but not very plot-driven, it is enjoyable with the expectation that it will, essentially, not be enjoyable or exciting.
Throughout the movie, Fausta is subjected to a multitude of hardships, beginning with the death of her mother. The film begins with a somber song sung by Fausta mother that recounts her rape and contraception of Fausta during the time of terrorism in the hillcountry of Peru. Because Fausta's mother lived during this time, it was believed by the people in their village that Fausta was contaminated with the disease "la teta asustada," or "the milk of sorrow." The disease affected those who were nursed by women affected by the horrific events during that often-forgotten time in Peruvian history.
While Fausta's believed diagnosis of "la teta asustada" is the cause for a lot discrimination against her, we also see the difference in rich and poor culture when she begins working for wealthy family in the city. Her relationship with the woman for whom she is working is strained and often times uncomfortable, but she finds solace in her relationship with the gardener. A speaker of her native Quechua, the gardener provides a needed sense of home in the bigger city, where she feels very out of place and at many times antagonized. This feeling ultimately culminates in Fausta's boss letting her go on the side of street after they attended a show in Lima where the woman performed one of Fausta's songs.
We ultimately see many intersections of culture in Fausta throughout the movie. Almost all of which resulting in some form of criticism or hardship. This aggregation of misjustice is accentuated by the melancholy tone of the film, as well as the overall theme presented.