Before The Rain (Day 88)

Before The Rain

My Opinion: 8.8 || Excellent. A revealing exploration of ethnic conflict that bends back on itself in a fascinating bit of nonlinear storytelling. You’ll scratch your head about whether the puzzle-plot actually fits together — only to decide that it doesn’t matter because the haunting illogic carries its own meaning.

TITLE: Before The Rain
Written & DIRECTed: Milcho Manchevski
LANGUAGE: Macedonian | COUNTRY: Macedonia
YEAR: 1994
PROFILE: War Drama | 113 minutes | IMDb (7.7)

SYNOPSIS (Courtesy of IMDb): The circularity of violence seen in a story that circles on itself. In Macedonia, during war in Bosnia, Christians hunt an ethnic Albanian girl who may have murdered one of their own. A young monk who’s taken a vow of silence offers her protection. In London, a photographic editor who’s pregnant needs to talk it out with her estranged husband and chooses a toney restaurant. She longs for permanence with her lover, a prize-winning Macedonian photographer just back from Bosnia. He leaves abruptly for his village; he’s not visited it in 16 years. There he tries to ignore bitter divisions between his Orthodox brethren and local Albanians, then tries to transcend them.

Strengths & Weaknesses: Even when nonlinear, Escher-like narratives are used well, they often have a cute, winking quality that calls attention to the cleverness of it all. That’s not the case here, where social realism and moral dilemmas occupy the center of the story and the narrative puzzle is visible only from certain angles. In its exploration of vengeance, the movie shows a moral maturity that puts to shame the juvenile ethics of most films that purport to examine the subject (Lady VengeancePieta).

Before The Rain

The film is broken into three parts, with the first and third acts set in Macedonia. It’s a vivid, deeply affecting portrait of a beautiful country rent by ugly hatreds. Writer-director Milcho Manchevski has crafted the rare film that combines moral insight, emotional impact, and intellectual stimulation.

Section 1: The first act looks at the conflict between mob justice, social expectations, and personal decency. (For my money, the quiet religious devotion shown here has much more to say than the voluble piety of The Island, despite interesting similarities in setting.) The segment follows a surprising arc and works very well.

Section 2: The middle act, set in London, is less effective. Here we meet the Macedonian photojournalist Alex, played with tremendous charisma by Rade Serbedzija — a very magnetic actor. However, the segment focuses on his lover Anne (Katrin Carlidge), who’s a fairly weak character in a run-of-the-mill storyline. The shocking conclusion ties it together with the rest of the film in a manner that’s chilling but also a bit forced.

Before The Rain

Section 3: The third segment is the film’s best, following Alex back to Macedonia, where his path intersects with key characters from the opening story. Serbedzija is such a suave, compelling actor that it’s a pleasure to hang out with him, and his characterization is pitch-perfect. Manchevski captures Macedonian village life with enthralling believability, and there’s frightening authenticity in the view of ethnic hatreds.

The conclusion is stunning and seems to close the circle of the story, but doesn’t truly. The brokenness of the puzzle is no accident — the logical conundrum of the story exemplifies the insane violence of its world.

File Under: war, photography, religious devotion, ethnic hatred, magnetic actors, Milcho Manchevski, Rade Serbedzija, vengeance, very bad dinners, nonlinear storytelling