Before the Rain (1994)
Director: Milcho Manchevski.
Starring: Katrin Cartlidge (Anne), Rade Serbedzija (Aleksander), Grégoire Colin (Kiril), Labina Mitevska (Zamira), Jay Villiers (Nick), Silvija Stojanovska (Hana), Phyllida Law (Anne's Mother), Josif Josifovski (Father Marko), Kiro Ristevski (Father Damjan), Petar Mircevski (Zdrave), Ljupco Bresliski (Mitre), Igor Madzirov (Stojan), Ilko Stefanovski (Bojan), Suzana Kirandziska (Neda), Katerina Kocevska (Kate).
in Macedonia interwoven tales against a backdrop of ethnic hatred
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
Explanation: The movie moves around in time very freely and is confusing. I have labeled the sequences to help avoid the confusion I found myself in after I watched the movie. PLC
Flash forward. A young Father Kiril is picking fruit in the garden of the monastery. An old priest comes to the young fellows and says: "It's going to rain. Come on." Kiril says nothing because for two years he has maintained a vow of silence.
Part I. Words.
Flash forward still. Mean boys put two turtles in a ring of sticks. They light the sticks on fire. The boys then place bullets in the fire and run for cover. The bullets go off. An upside down turtle burns in the middle of the ring.
The priests trek back from the cathedral to their individual rooms. Kiril takes his outer clothes off and starts to lay down on his bed. He soon jumps up because he realizes that someone is already in the bed. It looks like either a young boy or girl. He/she has very short hair. It is a young Albanian girl named Zamira. She cringes in fear and begs Kiril" "Don't hit me." Since Kiril says nothing, she says: "You don't speak Albanian. I don't speak Macedonian." Kiril doesn't really know what to do, so he starts walking to the room of the old priest to get some assistance. Zamira watches Kiril intently. Kiril sees how frightened the girl is and decides not to tell the old priest. The old priest thinks that Kiril wants to go to the outhouse, so he accompanies him.
When Kiril goes back to his room he places some tomatoes by Zamira's side. She is laying on the floor. She tells him her name and then adds: "You are good."
Flash still more forward in time. There is a funeral held for a man. The men at the funeral are carrying AK-47s.
An imagined scene. A solitary, pretty woman in western dress stands apart from the ceremony. She says out loud: "Oh, my God!"
Back to the flash forward. Kiril is late and runs to the cathedral. He gets some disapproving looks from the other priests. A little while later a man named Mitre with an AK-47 comes to the cathedral. He is accompanied by his two brothers, also armed. Mitre says he is looking for an Albanian girl. She killed their brother. The children say she is here. The Father in charge says: "We've only had refugees from Bosnia, Muslims." The brother ask what side the Father is on. Does he remember the five centuries of Muslim rule? Mitre says they will search the place. Father asks Kiril if he has seen a girl and Kiril shakes his head no.
The armed men start their search. (There are additional armed men helping in the search.) They search all the rooms on one floor and then go upstairs to Kiril's room. They find nothing. Mitre tells his crazy brother Stojan to act as a guard for the group. Stojan doesn't really guard anything. Instead, he shoots and kills a cat on the roof of an adjacent building in a very disturbing scene. Kiril runs out to vomit. At night the men sleep outside between the sides of two buildings.
At night Zamira comes to Kiril. He takes her hand but after a moment she pulls it back. Again she sleeps on the floor. The priests come to his room and find Kirl and Zamira together. The head priest is very angry with Kiril. Kirl packs a suitcase and goes down the stairs with it. He says good-bye to the priests. Zamira comes down to Kiril. The head priest slaps Kiril hard, but then embraces him strongly. Kiril and Zamira leave together. They walk right past the sleeping gunmen. She walks fast and he steady. They come to the cliff. Ahead and below them they see the wide river valley. Kiril says that they will go to his brother's house in Skopje. He will help them. Then they will go to his uncle's place in London. He's a famous photographer. Poor Zamira does not understand anything he is telling her. He kisses her on the cheek and she grabs him and embraces him.
The couple is broken up by the arrival of Zamira's grandfather and a group composed of his family and friends, all armed. Grandfather calls her a whore and slaps her hard. He asks: "Did you kill the shepherd? You'll start a war." He had locked her up and cut her hair. Then she escaped. Zamira tells her grandfather that Kiril loves her. Grandpa just keeps slapping her. There is nothing Kiril can do because he is constrained by one of Zamira's adult brothers. Grandfather lets Kiril go. He tells the young man: "Clear off!" As he walks, Kiril looks back at Zamira. All of a sudden she screams "Don't" and runs to Kiril. Just as she is about to reach Kiril her brother opens up with his AK-47 mortally wounding Zamira in the back. Grandfather spits on his grandson. Kirl leans down to Zamira and tells her that he is sorry. She dies. Kiril just sits on his suitcase beside the body.
Out of Sequence. The out-of-place woman from the funeral earlier showers while she cries.
Part II. Faces.
The name of the woman in the out-of-place scenes is Anne. She is a London-based photographer. She has been in Bosnia and looks over her pictures from the concentration camps there. The photos of ethnic hatred and suffering are disturbing. One of the oppressors wears a Nazi arm band.
The doctor calls Anne to tell her that she is pregnant. She says her husband will be glad about that, but when he gets off the phone she spits out a cruse word. She throws up in the restroom. She leaves works saying she will be back around 2 p.m. She talks with her mother. As they talk a man with long hair with some gray in his beard approaches Anne, leans in next to her and kisses her hair. She says: "Alex, what are you doing here? You are supposed to be in Bosnia?" His names is Aleksandar Kirkov. Anne introduces him to her mother. He won a Pulitzer Prize recently for his photographs. Alex continues to be overly-friendly with Anne. Seeing the situation, her mother leaves so they can be alone. Anne tells him: "You bastard!" She asks why he is back in London. He says he resigned and then suggests they have sexual intercourse. Traveling in a taxi Anne objects that he can't quit; he was born to be a photographer. Alex wants her to go back with him to Macedonia. Anne says Macedonia isn't safe. She then tells him, speaking politically, he should take sides in the conflicts in the Balkans. Alex then tells hee that he messed up in Bosnia: "I killed." She cries. They kiss. He starts fondling her. Their little petting session is broken up by a woman who knocks on the window to ask if the cab is available. The couple get out of the taxi.
Alex has tickets to Macedonia for Anne and himself. He wants her to go with him right now. She says she cannot and to be patient with her. He tells her to have a good life and don't forget to take sides.
Flash forward. Anne looks at the photos that have been developed. There are pictures of Kiril with the deceased Zamira. At this time Kiril calls from Macedonia asking for Alex. Anne tells the man that Alex is not there. He hangs up.
Alex takes a taxi to Heathrow Airport. Anne looks up to see his plane in the air.
Anne meets with her husband Nick at a nice restaurant. He apologizes for the fight they had. She says: "No, I'm sorry. It was me." She then tells Nick that she is pregnant. He says that's wonderful but then asks her if it is his child. She says yes. He kisses her and gets some champagne to celebrate. Anne is trying to tell Nick something, but he is too excited to listen to her. While they sit at their table a very bearded man with long hair (looking something like Alex) starts causing a commotion with one of the waiters. Everyone in the restaurant starts getting a little nervous expecting violence to break out at any time. And sure enough the waiter hits the enraged man and the fellow starts beating up the guy and all the other waiters rushing to help. They finally get him off the waiter that hit him and he starts to leave. As he does he threatens retaliation and puts his finger to his head (part of a figure of a pistol) and pulls the trigger. Some patrons leave the restaurant.
Nick and Anne stay. Anne finally blurts out "I want a divorce." Everyone turns to look since she said it so loudly. She says she still cares about him. He says: "I forgave you." She replies: "I don't want you to forgive me." Nick wants to know why she had him come see her if she already had her mind made up. Anne retorts: "No, I haven't . Sit down. I still love you. . . . Give it some time." But at this time the enraged patron comes back and starts shooting people. The scene is extremely violent and upsetting a bit. The waiter involved in the fracas is shot dead and falls on top of Anne. Another waiter is shot in the buttocks. When Anne can pull herself together from the shock she starts asking for Nick. She looks around and finds him face down on the floor. She turns him on his back and sees that the right side of his face is extremely bloody. He is dead. She says a couple of times: "Your face."
Part III. Pictures.
Alex's airplane arrives in Macedonia. Alex sees a white United Nations' truck. He takes the bus headed into the mountains. A soldier sits by him. Alex says that he ran away 24 years ago. The last time he visited was 16 years ago. The soldier asks him why come back to Macedonia now. Someone could chop off his head. Alex says: "About time!"
Alex gets off in the middle of nowhere. He starts walking downhill to his old village. A young man (we have seen him before; one of Mitre's brothers) stops Alex. He asks him where he is going. Alex is annoyed at being stopped. He loses his patience with the inquisitive young man and takes his automatic weapon from him. And, no, he won't give it back. The fellow warns Alex about what his Uncle Mitre will do to him if he doesn't give the weapon back. They are expensive. Alex is not scared at all.
He walks to the village. It is very quiet. He walks to his old house which is now just an abandoned shell of a dwelling. Alex's eyes start to water. He curses. He sleeps in the wreck of a house. The following morning he is awakened by the sound of the village boys laughing at him while they study him. When he gets up the boys run away. Alex starts to prepare himself to go out. He walks down to a source of water to clean up. When he comes back he finds a little boy wearing only a T-shirt and socks with the weapon. Alex gets scared and tries to coax the gun from the child. He then has to chase the boy because the kid thinks it's just all in fun. He finally does catch him, but a huge man tells him to let the boy down. Alex says hello to his cousin Bojan. Bojan doesn't recognize him until he figures out who it is. About this time Uncle Mitre arrives. He asks for the weapon and Alex gives it to him.
Alex asks about an Albanian woman named Hanna. They attended school together a long time ago and he liked her. That gets the men started on criticizing the Albanians. Supposedly they are taking over Macedonia. They breed like rabbits. Later the family has Alex take a family portrait.
At night one of the women at the dinner named Kate comes to see Alex. Kate is the local school teacher. She rubs his back and then starts to kiss his back. But Alex doesn't want her. He is still dreaming of Hanna.
The next morning Alex walks in the village. He sees another U.N. vehicle filled with military observers. Alex walks down to the Albanian section of the village. He is stopped by two Albanian guards. Alex tells them that he wants to see his friend Hanna again after being away for 16 years. The men make him wait while one of them goes to ask Hanna's father if Hanna can see him. The father is the grandfather of Zamira, daughter of Hanna.
Alex gets permission to visit. He talks with the father. Hanna lost her husband in a car accident. She brings out drinks for him and tells him to help himself. Zamira briefly sticks her head around the door to get a quick glimpse of their visitor before darting back. Hanna leaves the room. Zamira's brother (the one who will shoot and kill his sister) comes in and says about Alex: "He doesn't belong her. I'll slit his throat." Alex leaves without really talking to Hanna. He looks back to see Hanna watching him from one of the house's windows.
Anne calls the post officer to ask for Alex, but the lady who answers says there is no one there by that name. She hangs up on Anne.
Alex walks down to the farm of his cousin Zdrave. The doctor is there assisting with the birth of two lambs. Alex speaks with the doctor. He says that people won't start shooting around here. But the doctor replies that is what they said that about Bosnia. Alex knows all about Bosnia. He shows the doctor his left leg. He was wounded there while in Bosnia. Alex says: "There's no reason to fight here." The doctor disagrees, saying: "They'll find a reason. War is a virus."
Alex writes a letter to Anne. He says the village is just as before. He also explains how he was responsible for the death of a man. He complained to a militia man that there was nothing exciting to take a picture of. The fellow picked out a prisoner, forced him to his knees and shot him in the back of the head. Alex was taking pictures the whole time. The militia man asks Alex if that was exciting enough for him. Alex writes that Anne will be the only one to see the pictures besides himself.
Alix learns that cousin Bojan has been shot. He walks down to his house. The doctor arrives. He goes into the house to see Bojan and almost immediately starts to walk back out. The man is dead. The women start crying. On his way out, the doctor says to Alex: "Trouble!" The villagers start getting their weapons. They tell Alex that the children say they saw the Albanian slut (Zamira) with Bojan in the morning. Cousin Zdrave says: "I'll strangle her myself." Uncle Mitre gives an automatic weapon to his crazy brother and they go with the other men to hunt for Zamira. The doctors says to Alex: "Have a nice war. Take pictures."
Alex dreams of Hanna, but when he awakens and looks she isn't there. He lays back down, but sees her again. This time she actually is in his bedroom. She tells him that her daughter is missing. Alex holds her hand. Hanna tells him: "Help me, as if she was yours." He stares while she walks away. A little later he gets his camera bag out. He tears up the death pictures that he had taken.
There is a wedding in the village complete with a drum and other instruments. Alex walks down to cousin Zdrave's place. Everyone is sleeping, including the volunteers. Alex sees the captured Zamira. He takes her out of the room to the outside. Zdrave wakes up and tells Alex that he will shoot if he doesn't return the girl. Alex just says: "Shoot, cousin. Shoot." Alex and the girl start walking up a hill. Since they won't stop Zdrave fires his automatic weapon at them. Alex stops for a moment but then continues walking. But near the top of the ridge he collapses. He says to Zamira: "Look. It's going to rain." Zamira takes off running. Zdrave and the others take a look at Alex. They turn him face up. There are two bullet holes in his chest. He dies. Zdrave shoots at Zamira but doesn't hit her. Uncle Mitre and the others give chase.
Zamira keeps running until she reaches the cathedral. The old priest tells Kiril: "It's going to rain." We have come full circle even if the circle isn't round.
I very much enjoyed the movie. I was a bit confused when the film ended, so I put the commentary feature on and re-watched the sections I was confused about. After listening to the commentary I think I understand the movie. (I might be wrong on certain smaller things, but I'm happy with what I wrote. I tried to make the confusing sections more understandable by labeling them.) There was a lot of sustained tension in the film for violence always lay in the air of Macedonia -- the violence connected with ethnic grievances and hatreds. And there was a lot of action in the movie. I was surprised that the end of the movie was put at the start of the movie, but it was an interesting surprise. The poor Balkans! (The acting was very good.)
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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