[review] Claudia Llosa 2009 The Milk of Sorrow

This carefully composed film is a silent story of the presence of violence that does not vanish with death.

The film traces the transgenerational effects of violence in a Peruvian setting after the guerilla war (1980s-1990s). Its story revolves around Fausta to whom the Milk of Sorrow was transmitted by her mother while breast feeding her: milk tinged with sorrow following atrocities that victimised her mother.

Based on Kimberly Theidon’s anthropological work* which includes rape survivor testimonials this award-winning film refrains from judgments. It does not resolve the atmospheric friction created by counter-rotating logics such as a life-threatening potato growing inside Fausta’s body that is at the same time a tool for protection. Originating in the Andes the potato thus can be understood as a referent to a state of indeterminacy – not so much in relation to a mere psychological concept of trauma but to the cultural condition of guerilla wars.

Emphasising the sensuality and fragility of being the film allows for an entry point to an understanding of violence beyond identity, beyond the immobility of social roles: it is a glimpse at fragments of understanding – a glimpse at how meaning is shaped into being. This translation of sensuality that refers back to sorrow as a fluid that can be transmitted is most clearly exemplified by the voice of Fausta’s mother. A cragged voice that permeates the frame  – indeterminate, antidromic and exactly therein so decisive.

* = Entre Prójimos: El conflicto armado interno y la política de la reconciliación en el Perú. Instituto de Estudios Peruanos: Lima, Perú, 2004; transl. Intimate Enemies: Violence and Reconciliation in Peru, Studies in Human Rights, University of Pennsylvania Press.



watch the trailer on Youtube

– Tapias, Maria. “Emotions and the Intergenerational Embodiment of Social Suffering in Rural Bolivia.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 20/3 (2006): 399-415. Print.

– Diestro-Dópido, Mar. “The Milk of Sorrow.” Sight & Sound 20.5 (2010): 80-80. Print.

– Chang, Chris. “The Milk of Sorrow.” Film Comment 46.5 (2010): 73-73. Print.


see also:

– Interview with Claudia Llosa, the director

– website Kimberly Theidon, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University

– Kimberly Theidon on WordPress


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