"BEFORE THE RAIN"
A Film Review
by Robert N. Talabac
Today, Mr. Manchevski is hopeful about the future
of his homeland. He rejects the idea that Balkan nations are doomed to repeat a
century-long cycle of violence...
Manchevski said. "It's not so that if something happened 300 years
ago, it has to happen again. For me, the only thing that matters is your own personal
responsibility--whether you're in Northern Ireland or Armenia or London or
"A Journey to Macedonia Takes a Director to Sundance," by Ellen Pall
(The New York Times, Sunday, January 22, 1995)
One urgently wants to embrace Milcho Manchevski's forecast for the
eventual maturation of his Balkan homeland, but that day appears more distant in light of
the recent assassination attempt on the life of FYROM President Gligorov (see our NEWS
section for details).
The West has persistently branded Macedonia as the "Balkan powder
keg," and, in truth, Macedonia has often lived up to the name. (The first modern
terrorist organization was the bomb-throwing Internal Macedonian Revolutionary
Organization, founded in Skopje in 1894.) In our own day and until quite recently, the
Republic of Macedonia had remained relatively untouched by bloodshed and violence,
considering the volatile mixture of Macedonia's various ethnic and religious groups and
the civil war right next door in Bosnia. Milcho Manchevski's electrifying 1994 Academy
Award-nominated film, "Before the Rain," is a timely reminder of Macedonia's sad
and bloody history and its potential suddenly to erupt anew.
"Before the Rain" comprises three separate, yet deftly
bridged segments, in which the director weaves together the story of the film's
protagonist. This bloodstained triptych is a singular device which heightens the film's at
times mystical tone, especially in the first and last segments. For Manchevski, it is a
story of how one man's unbridled hatred toward his neighbor can set in motion an
ever-turning wheel of carnage. Not a novel premise, but one powerfully interpreted and
artistically executed here.
"Words" opens in present day Macedonia in as peaceful and
rustic a setting as one can imagine, a remote Eastern Orthodox Monastery. In a brief time,
Kiril (Gregoire Kolin), a naive young monk under a vow of silence, has his religious
obedience, ethnic allegiance and celibacy tested when Zamira (Labina Metevska), a wilful
Albanian Moslem girl takes refuge from her Slavic pursuers in his cell one night.
"Faces" moves the story to London, where Macedonian
Aleksandar Kirkov (Rade Serbedzija), an earthy, international photojournalist and Anne
(Katrin Cartlidge), a somewhat melancholy English editor at the magazine for which
Aleksandar works, are at a critical stage of their passionate love affair. Aleksandar,
war-weary and fed up with press sensationalism as well as his nomadic life, decides to
return to his village in his newly independent homeland and live there permanently. Anne,
unresolved, and possessing a secret, arranges to meet her husband at a restaurant where
she will confront the state of their marriage as well as her own feelings of confusion in
one of this film's most unnerving scenes.
At first reflection, "Faces" strikes one as the odd-man-out
of the three segments. After a second viewing, however, one perceives how it was designed
to lull the audience back into a modern, seemingly secure and more easily identifiable
setting. In a moment both serene and foreboding, Manchevski none too surreptitiously
sermonizes, releasing the spiritual currents that run throughout "Before the
Rain." Anne strolls past the open doors of a cavernous London church where a choir is
rehearsing. Something draws her, and the camera stares down the long aisle to the
engraving stretched high above the altar: "I am the Truth, the Way, and the
Life." "Faces" also succeeds because it juxtaposes Aleksandar's destiny in
Macedonia with his more carefree life with Anne in London.
Manchevski shows his genius for manipulating and shocking an audience
in the restaurant scene, which is reminiscent of Hitchcock's tension-building methodology.
Here, the unraveling emotions of Anne and her husband are masterfully orchestrated to
merge with the chaos that soon engulfs them. It is an omen of things to come, but it is
also a potent reminder to the cultivated West that the specter of senseless ethnic
violence exists not only in Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs of war scenes from the
Balkans, but can resurface suddenly and furiously in even the most "civilized"
"Pictures," the third segment, brings Aleksandar back to his
village in Macedonia only to find ethnic tensions running high between the Slavic Orthodox
inhabitants and the neighboring Albanian village, to which he ventures in order to seek
out the Albanian woman he once loved. As events arising from the first segment sweep
forward to their awful conclusion, "Words" inevitably pulls Aleksandar into the
climactic heart of this story and sees him take a bold, decisive stand. It is his
transfixed, Christ-like expression in the next-to-last scene that will haunt you at the
conclusion of this tragic Balkan tale.
Serbedzije is luminous as the rugged, irrepressible, devil-may-care
Aleksandar. Abdurahman Shala, as Zekir, the stern Albanian father of Aleksandar's old
girlfriend, manifests brilliantly the negativism, wiliness and strengths associated with a
traditional Balkan patriarch. Manchevski's pensive, artful direction, and the arresting
cinematography of the lunar-like landscapes, medieval Byzantine monasteries, and red-earth
villages of Macedonia sustain and project a mythical quality -- apropos, since the Balkans
is a region known for defending its mythologies. The musical score, which includes such
authentic folk instruments as the bagpipes and shepherd's flute, complements these
unearthly vistas and expresses the pride, joy and anguish of this ancient, troubled land.
"Before the Rain" is intense and at times brutal. It includes sex, strong
language, and explicit violence. The dialogue is in English, Macedonian (a Slavic
language), and Albanian (the last two have English subtitles). It should be available in
video stores as you read this review.