A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Friday, September 9, 2016

Before the Rain (Milcho Manchevski, 1994)

Before the Rain wears its fractured and inconsistent narrative proudly, as if daring us to make sense not only of the film's plot but also of the centuries-old tradition of violent revenge that had recently manifested itself in the states of the former Yugoslavia. It seems to be three stories that, by the time the film ends, have merged -- or like the snake eating its tail, begun to swallow up one another. The first story, "Words," set in the Republic of Macedonia, is about a young monk (Grégoire Colin) who shelters a girl (Labina Mitevska) from a pursuing mob. The second, "Faces," which takes place in London, centers on a photo editor, Anne (Katrin Cartlidge), and her relationships with a prize-winning photojournalist, Aleksander (Rade Serbedzija), as well as her husband, Nick (Jay Villiers). The third, "Pictures," returns with Aleksander to his home village in Macedonia, where, weary of and disillusioned by his career, he plans to settle. Each segment of the film ends violently, suggesting that the murderous impulse is immanent not only in the world's hot spots but in the heart of civilization itself. As director and screenwriter, Manchevski attempts to explore the dark side of human nature and society without suggesting that he has an explanation, much less a solution, for it. He intentionally undercuts the coherence of the film by introducing inconsistencies between the three sections, such as photographs in one section of events that have not yet happened if the three stories are to be rearranged as a linear progression. The effect is to unsettle the viewer, to heighten the emotional impact of events by denying the intellectual response to them. I think Manchevski largely succeeds, although the London section strikes me as the most weakly conceived, and its climax rather too cinematically staged, especially in comparison with the more subtly terrifying scenes in Macedonia.