Before The Rain, a film by Milcho Manchevski, is film well known in the film critic circle for its ingenious and powerful circular story. It’s three act structure and deep underlying social and cultural themes and comments are borderline trans-formative and noteworthy in the history of world cinema. Still, it did not quite satisfy or give me a sense of
This film takes on a task that is a little ‘different’ than most films. Manchevski crafts a story that is fairly compelling and plays with the time of a usual A to B film plot. Even more, he separates it into three separate story lines, Words, Faces, and Pictures, while keeping a central common thread. The entire story is thread around deep conflict in the early 1990’s in the country of Macedonia, in an area once known as “Yugoslavia”, in the middle of the Bosnian war.
The first section of the film is essentially…ironic. It’s titled ‘Words’, but throughout the whole section there are very little words that are actually spoken. Father Marko says early in the first scene, “Time never dies. The circle is never round.” This seems to already contradict the film’s circular concept, but it seems to imply that things are not always what they seem to be. For example, the young monk we meet along with Father Marko we find out has taken a vow of silence, and when he soon meets a young woman hiding in his quarters, there are almost no words spoken, and it leaves the first part of the film lack certain clarity in its intention and purpose in the larger piece.
Even though we don’t yet know about her killing one of Aleksander’s groups members, there’s also danger introduced by her presence in the scene. Manchevski holds takes on each of their faces for quite a while, and though they don’t speak, we get a calming sense of acceptance from the young monk about her presence. She is and Albanian girl, where the church has mostly helped Muslim Bosnians. The man she has killed is a Catholic Macedonian, and this returns later on in the final part of the film.
‘Faces’ is the second section, and it’s based in London, following the story of Yugoslavian photographer, Aleksander, who has been having an affair with a pregnant married woman, Anne. In contrast to the first section, the entire mise-en-scene is very modern, using harsh white lighting, less warm color tones, and music from the 90’s.
They have long conversations about his desire to return to Macedonia, which is too violent to Anne for her to go with him. Ironically, as she and her husband converse in the diner, they are attacked by men, reminiscent of the men who came after the Albanian woman from earlier. The violence she was afraid of from a world away finds her in London. The faces of people affects how we perceive each other, and even just a face, can be rationalized as enough to judge and even kill a group of people, one of which ends up being Anne’s husband.
When Aleksander finally goes back home, the final section of the film called, ‘Pictures’, shows him rediscovering his home and the internal struggle and destruction that is happening. Decrepit structures, low camera angles reveal barren like landscapes. He looks at photos, and spends time in a low light room missing the woman he appears to have loved.
Before The Rain is an interesting and meaningful film. However, it doesn’t seem to grasp my attention as I expected it to. It was clearly divided, well-written, and does well to connect and describe the intense world of war and the human connection between cultures and larger global events. Yet, it feels slightly off in it’s presentation of the monk and Albanian woman, to Anne, her husband, and Aleksander.
The threat of violence is perpetuated and echoed through each part of the film. Storm clouds, lightning rumble overhead in places throughout the film, hinting to the film’s title, but it also hits home what I think Manchevski’s overall message of the film. Through our Words, Faces, and Pictures, we are all connected through whatever tragedy, personal or global, as human being willing to sacrifice ourselves for others even when our cultures deem it forbidden.