By Phil Hall | August 17, 2010

The Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film has a history of dubious judgments, and that category’s sorry history continued earlier this year with the unlikely nomination of the monotonous Peruvian film “The Milk of Sorrow” for Oscar consideration.

Set in the capital city of Lima, the film focuses on Fausta, a young Andean woman who is supposedly suffering from “la teta asustada,” a psychosomatic condition centered on the children of women whose mothers were raped during Peru’s civil war in the 1980s. However, if one came into to the film ten minutes past the opening explanation of the plot, it would be easy to assume that Magaly Solier’s Fausta is actually suffering from somnambulism. Resembling a mid-1960s version of Cher, she wanders through the film with a blank, dull personality – she is not exactly the type of individual that should be at the center of a film.

In any event, Fausta’s mother had a unique approach to raising her daughter: she entertained the poor kid with Quechua-language songs with graphic lyrics regarding sexual assault and dismemberment and planted a potato in Fausta’s vagina as a rape prevention method. Years later, the potato is still in place and taking root, which creates no end of medical problems.

When Fausta’s mother dies, her Lima relatives make half-hearted efforts to help – they keep the body under a bed and offer to conduct a hillside burial, but they change their mind and expand the grave into a makeshift pool. Fausta gets a job as a maid to pay for the transport of the corpse back to her Andean hometown, but the rich bitch employer winds up exploiting her.

Writer-director Claudia Llosa’s approach to filmmaking appears to be allowing the cast to mumble the humorless dialogue in endlessly long takes. The film also sends a none-too-subtle message that the Andean natives of Peru are a bunch of superstitious ninnies – is this the image that Peru wants to present of itself to the world? Nobody in the film appears to have any acting talent, and the grimy cinematography serves as a veil of boredom.

Anyone who wishes to endure “The Milk of Sorrow” should make sure that the film is playing in a theater near a well-stocked bar – after sitting through this mess, you’ll need a few glasses of something decidedly stronger than milk.

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