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Fausta: The Milk of Sorrow

“A charming film that will appeal to those with patience or tender souls…”

Fausta: La Teta Asustada / The Milk of Sorrow

Director: Claudia Llosa

Fausta is a young woman afflicted with a rare disease. The milk of Sorrow, passed on to her through her mother’s breast milk, affects the children born to women tortured and raped during Peru’s terrorist era. Frightened of everything, Fausta sings to herself to soothe her fear, and holds sacred all superstitions.

Upon the death of her mother, Fausta finds herself alone among family members absorbed in their own daily existences, and is faced with a task: raising enough money to transport her mother’s body to be buried in a nearby town, before her uncle buries her in the yard. In order to accomplish this, she takes on a job as a night maid in the house of a wealthy and eccentric pianist – a greying woman who lives alone behind the buzzing market and tosses pianos out the window in frustration. There, she develops a tender rapport with the gardener, and trades songs to her mistress for pearls.

Visually and conceptually, La Teta Asustada is a winner. Llosa weaves a compelling story that unwinds at a slow, but steady pace. At heart, the film is about a young woman facing her fears, and Fausta does this on oh-so-delicate tiptoes, and so the film progresses by building up delicate images. Life and death are juxtaposed as Fausta harbours her mother’s decaying body, a nuisance to the marriage-obsessed family who dismiss her fears. Marriage is a major theme. It is not only how the family earns their living – staging “bodas modas” for the townspeople who save all year for the buffet, sugary cake, and doves – but also what they themselves prepare for as a cousin’s big day looms on the horizon. This theme affords the film many striking images, and comic relief – from a sullied, balloon ridden veil urged to fly, to a broken dove tossed at a dog, to the conga line presentation of gifts at a group wedding. Most poetic among these images is the mummified corpse stashed beneath a bed upon which a wedding dress has been stretched, revealed when Fausta pulls the bed out from the wall.

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The most interesting facet to the film is Fausta herself. Her sweet and melodic voice as she sings to ease her fear, the bloody nose and nausea she suffers from in times of anxiety, and her timid footsteps, all work to create a character standing on the edge of life, needing to take that step we all hope she’ll take to find strength by the end of the film. Her fear of men drives her to extraordinary lengths; did I mention young Fausta plants a spud in her cooter? She does.

A charming film that will appeal to those with patience or tender souls, La Teta Asustada depicts a slice of impoverished life in Lima, however imaginative the context. Winner of the Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear, it’s sure to garner attention from film critics and fans. Director Llosa and actress Magaly Solier make a captivating pair.

Marianne Perron