By Jacqueline Lebel

The Milk of Sorrow Picture 2A fictitious story reflecting the aftermath of the terror that took place in Peru, particularly in the Andean region, between 1980 and 1992, Peruvian director Claudia Llosa brings The Milk of Sorrow, a co-production between Spain and Peru,to the big screen. Released in 2009, this beautifully composed film has garnered worldwide attention and was the first Peruvian film to be nominated for an Academy award, in the Best Foreign Language Film category, at the 82nd Academy Awards ceremony and with reason.

This film combines drama, music, and history, creating a heartfelt story of a young woman named Fausta, played by the talented Magaly Solier, living her life in fear after having been infected with “La teta asustada”, also known as the “Milk of Sorrow disease”, by drinking her mother’s breast milk as a baby, after her mother was raped during the Peruvian civil war. This mythical disease of her mother’s sorrow and fear being passed on to her through breastfeeding displays Llosa’s wonderful use of magical realism. The only temporary cure is to sing about her feelings of anxiety, fear, and sorrow and she does so especially when she is confronted by men, reminding her of her mother’s distress. After she claims having witnessed her mother’s rape from inside her stomach, Fausta decides to place a potato in her vagina as a way of protecting herself from any type of sexual encounter with men. However, the growing potato begins to cause her physical pain, reminding her of the horrific event. Going to such lengths to protect herself exemplifies the psychological impact her mother’s rape has had on her, and is a result of her “disease.”

In the opening scene of the film, Fausta’s mother passes away after singing about her tragic experience in her native language, with Fausta by her side. This heart-wrenching moment of Fausta watching her mother depart her world sets the viewer in the right mood for this film—a slow, sad yet hopeful one. Trying to make enough money to give her mother a proper burial, Fausta finds work as a maid for a wealthy musician living in Lima and, little by little, she begins to accept the world, including the musician’s male gardener.

Claudia Llosa’s powerful film focuses on the Peruvian women affected by the civil war, including the younger generations that were affected through the “Milk of Sorrow disease,” and how they use singing not only to retell their tragic experiences, but also to express their sorrow, anxieties, and fear. With the help of Natasha Braier’s outstanding cinematographic work and Selma Mutal’s beautiful musical compositions, Llosa’s The Milk of Sorrow greatly reveals how song is a significant part of the culture of the indigenous women of Peru.