For the past couple of years, the internecine warfare in and around the former Yugoslavia has been a prominent part of our daily news reports.
But how many of us know what’s really going on there? Furthermore, how can we even begin to understand the passions and long-held hatreds that would cause one nationalistic group to so willfully murder another?
“Before the Rain” provides some answers.
One of last year’s Oscar-nominated foreignlanguage entries, this Macedonian production blends trendy film techniques with a quick lesson in post-Yugoslavian civics. It makes for an odd quilt, though, one where the seams attract a bit too much attention.
Written and directed by Milcho Manchevski, a Macedonian native best known until now as a director of commercials and music videos, “Before the Rain” certainly understands its subject. The question is, does Manchevski’s filmmaking style best serve his plot?
Part of that style is the screenplay itself. Manchevski has concocted a complicated three-part script that seems to try, but ultimately fails, to interlock smoothly. This may be by intent - the film’s mantra is “Time never dies. The circle is not round” - but, if so, it is more confusing than functional.
The first part, subtitled “Words,” involves a young priest who, against his training, decides to shelter a young Muslim woman from those who would kill her. The second (“Faces”) introduces us to a British magazine photo editor who, though married, is carrying on a torrid affair with a Macedonian-born war photographer.
And the final part (“Pictures”) follows the photographer’s return to his homeland, where he is forced to act on his beliefs as opposed to, in the manner of his profession, just witnessing the actions of others.
There is no mistaking the inherent force into which Manchevski is tapping; the three parts of his movie are brought together by a threat of violence that is as unforgiving as it is unavoidable. The acting, particularly by Gergoire Colin as the priest and Rade Serbedzija as the photographer, is uniformly effective.
And Manchevski’s visuals, from a restaurant exploding in gunfire to the sight of a distant storm cloud, bear the authentic ring of time and place.
But Manchevski leaves us with too many unanswered questions, most of them involving the very time and space that these characters seem to inhabit all at the very same time. (Or are they communing in alternate dimensions right before our very eyes?)
If the characters truly are slipping the bonds of Earthly existence, then that would make some sense - at least as much, anyway, as we’re likely to glean about the real Macedonia from the daily headlines.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “Before the Rain” ** 1/2 Location: Magic Lantern Cinemas Credits: Written and directed by Milcho Manchevski, starring Rade Serbedzija, Katrin Cartlidge, Gregoire Colin and Labina Mitevska Running time: 1:55 Rating: Not rated (but equivalent to at least a PG13 rating); in Macedonian with English subtitles
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