Milk of Sorrow

Claudia Llosa’s original Spanish-language title, La teta asustada, literally translates as “the frightened teat”—a poetic allusion to the aftermath of rape, and the way in which that trauma can be passed down to the next generation by mother’s milk. The historical frame of reference is that of the atrocities committed during Peru’s Shining Path insurgency—although Llosa sidesteps the political specifics. Rather, the focus is on Fausta (Magaly Solier), and the psychological damage she has inherited from her mother. The main plotline, taking place decades after the original incident, involves Fausta’s quest for money in order to transport her mother’s coffin to a distant burial site.

Fausta’s demeanor is skittish and paranoid (walking the streets alone is particularly daunting); stricken by such obvious internal turmoil, she has the air of a mentally ill person. Llosa, daughter of the author Mario Vargas Llosa, employs symbolism so overwrought, her material might well have been better served as a text—even given the film’s abundant visual virtues (particularly its spectacular use of landscape).

To wit, the following allegorical overload: Fausta has embedded a potato in her vagina (for protection). It’s a source of understandable discomfort and duress; she occasionally must prune the “eyes” that protrude into her flesh. The film does not openly acknowledge what all Peruvians know: that the potato was first cultivated in the Andes.