La Teta Asustada (The Milk of Sorrow)

Sometimes, the beauty in something strange lies on the fact that it defies comprehension, shameful as it is on my part as a moviegoer to accept, but I failed to fully understand the film despite its stark simplicity. The paradox is, the closer an idea or a thought approaches simplicity, the more profound it becomes, the more it evades understanding.

A week after watching the movie, I still could not understand it, still could not encapsulate the theme inside a convenient, boldly-outlined thought bubble. And that’s after a careful reflection! The aesthetics of the film La Teta Asustada (English title is The Milk of Sorrow, but literally “The Frightened Teat”) is an ‘allegorical’ one as it was referred to in the brochure released by Instituto Cervantes in Manila during its 9th Pelicola (Spanish Film Festival).

And to compound matters, I only have Wikipedia to help me situate the film in its context. This Academy Award for Best Foreign Picture nominated film in 2009 by the Peruvian director Claudia Llosa, which has a period feel in it, probably caused by the sepia filter or the general mood and its nuanced sadness, begins with a melodious song sung by an old woman. Eventually, the audience is confronted with a disturbing lyrics and bitterness of a dying woman’s heart who has been raped in front of her husband and was forced by her rapists to eat her dead husband’s penis.

This is a beautiful film that tackles the result of the atrocities of the 12-year war in Peru on the individual–especially women as well as their children who were caught between the warring government and the rebel Maoist group Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). The film at first seems distended, unrelated vignettes of Peruvian society but these parts eventually form into its cohesive one-ness that center on Fausta (Magaly Solier).

The storytelling devices used in the movie are odd, sometimes approaching to scandalous hilarity, but there is nothing laughable about the film. The potato Fausta inserts in her vagina because of her fear of sex, and consequently, the fear she has of men, and the difficulties she has to go through just to bury her mummified mother, all these are reflections of her solitude and unexpressed sadness caused by the fear ingrained in her by her mother through her breast milk (but more through her disquieting, angry songs) while she was growing up.

While Fausta silently confronts the shadows that lurk in her psyche, the setting, the Peruvian capital Lima and its outskirts seem to have moved on, fully recovered, and free from any signs of the a painful past. This contradiction, the contrast between the bleak landscape and the beautiful Fausta, the happy people and the deeply but quietly fearful Fausta all created a film that haunts, that leaves a bitter aftertaste, but that gives its audience a better understanding of unknown realities hard to understand, much less confront.

Llosa kept herself from going into the realm of hard-core psychologizing by giving the audience only the surface to rub, but by so doing penetrating the depth of Fausta’s fears and the mysterious terrains of her mind.

I may not have fully understood the film until now, which I shamefully admit, but that’s where I think the reason why I find this film beautiful and poetic.