DRAMA THE MILK OF SORROW (LA TETA ASUSTADA) (12A) 98min ●●●●●
The protagonist of this sombre allegorical drama is the impassive Fausta (Magaly Solier), a fearful young indigenous Peruvian woman who lives in a shanty settlement on a mountainside outside Lima. According to folklore she is suffering from the ‘milk of sorrow’, which was transmitted through the breast milk of her recently deceased mother, who was raped during the civil war of the 1980s. Needing money to pay for the latter’s burial, she must work in the city as a maid for an emotionally volatile concert pianist (Susi Sanchez). Writer-director Claudia Llosa shoots potentially sensationalist material with admirable restraint, favouring medium and long shots from fixed camera positions, whilst keeping the atrocities themselves off-screen. Instead, in the film’s haunting opening scene we listen over a black screen to the dying mother’s chants about her ordeals.
Contrasting two diametrically opposed worlds, the filmmaker finds a measure of beauty in the rituals and superstitions of life in an impoverished community, notably in the weddings arranged by Fausta’s relatives. Solier too impresses in the role of the traumatised individual, who gradually gives voice through her own songs to long-suppressed feelings. (Tom Dawson) ■ GFT, Glasgow, Sun 16–Wed 19 May; Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Mon 28 Jun–Thu 1 Jul.
BIOPIC/DRAMA/HISTORY VINCERE (15) 128min ●●●●●
Veteran Italian writer-director Marco Bellocchio (Fists in the Pocket, Good Morning, Good Night) returns with this thunderous melodrama, which powerfully fuses form and content to relate the tragic story of Benito Mussolini’s secret first wife, the Austrian-born Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno). A beauty shop owner in Milan on the eve of World War I, she begins a passionate affair with the then left-wing agitator Mussolini (Filippo Timi), and she soon bears him a child, Benito Jr. By now Mussolini has aligned himself to the Fascist cause, and completely disowns her in favour of his official wife Rachele (Michela Cescon). Ida’s increasingly frantic attempts to gain official recognition from the fascist authorities for herself and her son see her incarcerated in mental institutions, with Il Duce determined to rid all traces of his socialist past.
Taking its title from the fascist slogan ‘Victory’ or ‘Win’, the operatically scored Vincere is much less a traditional biopic than a tumultuous work of counter- history. Bellocchio orchestrates a spectacular and delirious mixture of archival newsreel footage, clips from silent movies, Futurist-style flourishes and fictional re-enactments. This post-modern collage is not just an attempt to recreate the atmosphere of a
particular era: the film itself is expressly concerned with how fascism was constructed through visual imagery, with cinema being an important motif. What happens to Ida is an allegory for how the Italian nation was seduced by the undeniably charismatic demagogue. In the opening scene for example she is enthralled by how the young firebrand challenges God to strike him down within five minutes to prove his existence, and the sexual encounters between her and Mussolini have a palpable forcefulness. During the second half of the film however, she never actually meets her former lover in person: instead she has to watch images of the strutting dictator exhorting fervent crowds, further fuelling her own obsession. It’s an axiom that films about the past reflect
contemporary concerns. Despite Bellocchio’s own protestations, it seems hard to ignore the parallels between Vincere and the cult of personality surrounding the current Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, another ruthlessly opportunistic showman. Stars Mezzogiorno and Timi deliver powerfully physical performances, and it’s telling that Timi is also cast as Mussolini’s abandoned grown-up son. The latter’s frenzied impersonation of the dictator’s grandstanding oratory conveys a passing down of malign forces to the next generation. (Tom Dawson) ■ Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 14 May; GFT, Glasgow from Fri 21 May.
COMEDY DOCUMENTARY AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY (15) 106min ●●●●●
When Bill Hicks died of pancreatic cancer in February 1994, he left a void which the American stand-up world has found impossible to fill. The son of Southern Baptists, this comedy preacher left behind a trail of questions in his wake: what kind of comic would he have turned into? Would he have remained true to his spirit or ultimately sold out to the corporate world he loathed? Why was he so beloved in Britain but relatively shunned in his homeland? If you seek answers to any of these questions, you won’t find them in American, an overly stylistic, patchy and awkwardly put-together run-through of Hicks’ hectic life and times.
Documentary-makers Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas were certainly given
access to kill for, interviewing his siblings, parents and closest buddies (including comic Dwight Slade and film producer Kevin Booth) and through those avenues are handed early footage and unseen photos which are the real pleasure of the film. Odd then that they should use the images in jarring photonovel-style reconstructions, while the use of Hicks’ music (his first love ahead of comedy) stomps all over what should be the painfully moving closing sequences.
There is a definitive, epic biography to be made on this stand-up icon, but American isn’t quite it. (Brian Donaldson) ■ GFT, Glasgow; Cameo, Edinburgh and selected release from Fri 14 May. See profile, index.
13–27 May 2010 THE LIST 43