La Teta Asustada (The Milk of Sorrow) (2009)
Director: Claudia Llosa.
Starring: Magaly Solier (Fausta), Susi Sánchez (Aída), Efraín Solís (Noé), Bárbara Lazón (Perpetua), Delci Heredia (Carmela), Karla Heredia (Severina), Fernando Caycho (Melvin), Miller Revilla Chengay (Melvincito), Spencer Salazar (Jonathan), Summy Lapa (Chicho), Mría del Pilar Guerrero (Máxima), Leandro Mostorino (Jhonny), Anita Chaquiri (Abuela), Edward Llungo (Marcos), Daniel Núñez (Amadeo).
times of the war against terrorism leads to violation of human rights, which has a profound impact on a young Peruvian woman
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
An old Indian woman sings a very sorrowful song about being raped and her husband killed. Fausta, her daughter, tells her she must eat something and the woman says that if Fausta sings for her, she will eat something. Fausta signs. Not long after this, her mother dies.
Cousin Maxima is getting ready for a wedding ceremony and she tells her father that her train in the back is too short. Dad says he has no more money for extra material for the train. Fausta comes over to the neighbor's small place and she looks as if she is frozen. The neighbors ask her to say something. The girls call out to their mother that Fausta is bleeding again! Fausta faints.
Fausta is asked for her full name: Fausta Isidora Janampa Chauca. The nurse asks her if she is a virgin and Fausta says she doesn't know. The doctor explains to the neighboring father, Fausta's uncle, that Fausta has a potato in her vagina and right now she is too upset to let them take it out. Uncle explains: "Fausta was born during terrorism. And her mother transmitted her fear through her breast milk. The 'milk of sorrow', as we call anyone born that way, without a soul because it hid underground out of fear."
The doctor says that his niece's uterus is inflamed and that's dangerous because it could cause her to have more infections. Uncle insists it's from the "milk of sorrow", but the doctor tells him there is no such thing as the "milk of sorrow" and it certainly isn't transmitted through a mother's milk. He sets up an appointment to remove the potato. Evidently, a potato in the vagina was used as a method of contraception because the doctor says that he will provide a modern form of contraception for Fausta.
On the bus going back home, Fausta tells her uncle that the doctor knows nothing. She does not want the doctor to operate on her. Her uncle tells her that things are different now in Lima. She does not need to be afraid of anything. The bus drops them at their neighborhood which consists of a lot of very simple dwellings. At home Fausta lays in bed with her dead mother with a blanket draped over her. She sings to her mother that uncle does not understand her.
In the backyard uncle digs a grave. Fausta comes over to him and tells uncle that she will take her mother to the village. Uncle says there's no money. Fausta tells him not to worry about it. She goes back home and washes her mother's clothes she will be dressed in for the funeral.
She and a male cousin go to the village to find out the cost for the coffin, the transportation and the paperwork. The owner of the shop says it will cost them 800 soles. She and her cousin go to see two more shops that sell coffins. Back at her uncle's home they are preparing for the upcoming wedding. Auntie is fixing the cake.
Fausta, auntie, cousins and others help prepare the body for the funeral. The corpse is wrapped in muslim cloth and a blanket is then put around the body.
Fausta follows her aunt to see Fina, a black woman who will introduce Fausta to Mrs. Aida, the owner of the big house where Fina works. Fina has Fausta take a bath and use deodorant. She is to stay in the kitchen unless Mrs. Aida calls for her.
Fausta is in her "uniform" for the job and in the kitchen. Suddenly, she hears someone ringing a bell. Fausta goes into see Mrs. Aida. The house is so big that it takes Fausta awhile to figure out where the owner of the house is located. The woman calls for Fina, not Fausta. The woman is trying to hang a picture and wants Fausta's help, but Fausta starts bleeding from the nose and rushes to the kitchen to stop it. Fausta is very timid. As she sits, a piece of the growth of the potato drops on the floor.
Noé the gardener rings the bell to be allowed entrance onto the property. Fausta asks who is it? The gardener. Fausta asks him to show his hands and he does so. She then pushes the button that opens the entrance like a garage door. She walks away from the gardener without saying hello to him.
A wedding takes place. The couple dances and then wedding photos are taken with the two families. A band is present and they play music for the people to dance to. Fausta is helping cater the affair. Her uncle asks if she got the big advance from the big house? She answers that her mistress will pay her at the end of the month. Uncle says he wants no dead people or crying at the wedding ceremony for Maxima. So, Fausta must take Perpetua away before the wedding.
Fausta tries to transport the casket by bus, but the ticket agent tells her no way. At the big house Fausta sees that the mistress has thrown the piano down from the second floor and it is smashed. Mrs. Aida tells her son that she has to buy a new piano.
The mistress comes to the kitchen to ask Fausta to sing for her that song that she sang yesterday. Fausta opens her mouth, but nothing comes out. She tells her mistress that she can't Her mistress goes back to her bedroom.
The mistress's pearl necklace breakes and all the pearls fall onto the bathroom floor. She asks Fausta to help her pick them up. Fausta looks at the pearls she picks up. The mistress notices this and tells her that if Fausta sings for her, she will give Fausta the pearls. And if she sings long enough she will be able to complete the pearl necklace and then it will be hers.
The gardener arrives and Fausta shows him the broken piano on the ground. Cousin Maxima and Don Lucio get engaged after Maxima peels a long, continuous strip of a potato. Her uncle examines it and says the marriage will be a long one full of love and hope. Don Lucio puts a ring on Maxima's finger.
Don Lucio has a cousin that likes the way Fausta looks. He tells his cousin that she has that sickness of the breast. The cousin goes over and tells Fausta that he bets a lot of guys flirt with her. He then says: ". . . if red is the color of passion, bathe me in your menstruation." Fausta gets up and leaves. She goes inside the house. Her mother's body has been stashed under one of the beds.
At work the cousin comes to walk Fausta home. Fausta won't go with him and closes the gate on him after the gardener gets in. She watches the gardener from the kitchen window as he works. He comes to the kitchen door and asks for a glass of water. She gives him a glass of water. He offers to take her home, but she says no. When the gardener goes to work she goes out and speaks to him. She must have agreed to let him walk her home because we see him walking with his bike beside her on her way home. She makes him wait at the corner as she makes the last steps on her journey. He watches her go.
Fausta sees her uncle continuing to dig the grave. She goes out to investigate, but uncle just put a little pool for the kids at the bottom of the hole.
One day at work, she hears her mistress singing one of the songs that Fausta sings. She walks very slowly to the bedroom. When the mistress stops singing, Fausta sings. It makes tears come to her eyes to sing the song. Her boss gives her a pearl. Later, Fausta goes outside to talk to the gardener about plants.
Now uncle has lined the whole pool with a large tarp and fills the hole to the top with . The kids and the adults now sit around it or play in the water of the pool.
Fausta keeps singing and now she has 17 pearls. One day the new piano arrives. It is much larger than the previous piano, Fausta takes the covering off the piano. Fausta opens the gate for the gardener. He has brought her a present. He has her hold out her hand and he fills it with individually wrapped hard candies. Fausta drops them to the ground and runs back to the kitchen. Later, she comes dressed in her regular clothes instead of the uniform and asks the gardener why are there no potatoes in the garden? He asks her why is she afraid of walking home alone? She just says she walks home with someone because she wants to. He says that all people usually do what they want to do. Only death is obligatory. Fausta gets upset and asks then what about rape? Is that obligatory? She leaves.
A mass wedding takes place with about 20 couples involved. Now the families of the newlyweds walk across a red carpet bringing wedding gifts for the couples. Actually, the people don't really walk, but prance down the red carpet moving the gifts up and down as they sway to the music. Fausta gets sick and she is taken to see a doctor. Most of the women in the waiting room are pregnant. When Fausta goes into see the doctor she doesn't have any admittance papers. The doctor says he is so busy here that she should go home, get her papers and come back tomorrow.
The pet dog keeps following Fausta and keeps smelling her in the rear.
Now Fausta has all the pearls except one.
Mrs. Aida plays a piano concert. Fausta came along to fix her hair. When the music starts going, she comes out to watch her employer. She watches as her boss receives a tremendous applause from the large audience. On the way home in the car, Mrs. Aida says to the driver to stop the car. She comments that Fausta lives in the area and she is walking home. Fausta starts getting very scared, but she gets out of the car. As the car pulls away, Fausta shouts what about my pearls? We had a deal! The driver just keeps on driving.
Fausta has still not buried her mother. She apologizes to her uncle for deceiving him about the body.
Maxima is getting married today. She has wedding photos in front of a screen with a waterfall painted on it. Fausta attends the wedding and the reception, but once again is alone.
Fausta is sleeping with the other young ladies, when uncle puts his hands over her mouth and nose so she can't breathe. She fights to get his hands off her. Uncles says: "See how you breathe? See how you want to live? You want to live, but you don't dare." She gets away from him and runs out of the room. She runs down to the market place. She goes inside the big house to retrieve her pearls. They have been strewn on the floor. She picks them up. The gardener finds her on the ground with her right breast exposed. He covers the exposed area and then holds her head up. She starts crying: "Get it removed from inside me! Get it removed from inside me!" He carries Fausta on his back, the piggy back way.
He brings her to the hospital. From there he takes her to the emergency room. The potato is removed. Her uncle visits her in the hospital.
Fausta is in the back of a pick-up truck with many others. She sees the Pacific Ocean. She yells and bangs on the truck to get her uncle to stop. The gardener carries Fausta on his back down to the beach. She stands there looking out at the oceans and its waves. She sings to her mother: "Look at the sea, mum. Look at the sea."
Back at home, Fausta finds a potted flowering plant just outside the door. She bends down to smell the fragrance of the flowers.
The film makes the point that Fausta was born during terrorism. She believes that the fear endured by her mother was transmitted to her through her mother's breast milk. This milk is referred to as the "milk of sorrow" (which is just an old wives' tale.) And now Fausta lives in fear. She is a very sad young lady because of the fear she feels. She is extremely timid around people and has no boyfriends. As her uncle told her, she is afraid to live her life. She is afraid to walk home by herself because she is afraid of the evil spirits around the village. As a method of contraception either she or her mother put a potato up into her uterus. And Fausta is too afraid to have it taken out. She's a mess. Her life starts to change when she starts to fall in love with the gardener at the big house where she works. The love she feels, along with the disgust of the fear she so often feels, finally gets her to tell the gardener to take her to get the potato out of her. She finally can start a new life for herself.
What is this time of terrorism the film speaks of? Wikipedia speaks of economic and social tensions leading to the rise of radical groups like the Shining Path. The García administration tried to militarily put down the leftist terrorism, but in the attempt they committed many human rights violations. The same problems affected the Fujimori administration.
1985 (July) -1990 (July) – tenure of Alan García Pérez.
1990 (July) - 2000 (July) – tenure of Alberto Fujimori.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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