In Claudia Llosa’s The Milk of Sorrow, Fausta (Magaly Solier) is scared; of men, their words, their movements. As her mother sings while awaiting her own death, Fausta comes to know what men did to her mother while she was in her womb.
The pain her mother experienced after being raped in the Peruvian Andes during the years of the armed conflict caused Fausta to be born with the milk of sorrow. Her mother’s pain flowed through her milk and Fausta bears that suffering. That’s why she doesn’t fit in with the rest of her family and neighbors. That’s why she’s so scared.
To pay for her mother’s funeral, Fausta starts working as a maid for a wealthy pianist, Aida (Susi Sánchez). Though Aida’s life seems perfect, she’s also scared; of failure and of what is expected from her and her work. The year’s most important piano recital is only days away, but inspiration is nowhere to be found until she hears Fausta sing in her native Quechua. She encourages Fausta to write her own songs, only to plagiarize them.
Amidst all this, there is a wedding! The father of the bride wants Fausta, his niece, to not be sad and to figure out what to do with her mother’s body, because a dead body and a cloud of sadness can only be considered a bad omen.
Though the film might sound dreary and painful, it manages to include moments of humor and beauty—from a wedding party with a mobile buffet to caskets paying homage to Peru’s most important football teams! Magaly Solier’s voice and Natasha Braier’s cinematography give the film a rare beauty.
In the end, we witness the reverberations of trauma—a trauma that shapes the contrast between those who have chosen to carry it in silence, and those who remember it and sing about it.
Having Llosa tell a story about women’s trauma is extremely poignant. She not only shows care and respect for Fausta’s story, but also tells it with a shared sense of pain-bearing, while moving through life carrying that pain and grief.