‘La Teta Asustada’ – an overview
Un Perú que estudia es un Perú que triunfa. (A Perú that studies is a Perú that triumphs)–
widespread slogan painted on [school] walls
.)Quedaron, de este modo, bajo tutela las instituciones de la recién ganada democracia; sealimentó la impresión de que los principios constitucionales eran ideales nobles peroinadecuados para gobernar a un pueblo al que —en el fondo— se menospreciaba al punto deignorar su clamor, reiterando la vieja práctica de relegar sus memoriales al lugar al que se harelegado, a lo largo de nuestra historia, la voz de los humildes: el olvido.(In this manner, institutions belonging to a young and hard-won democracy were warded off;no resistance was given to the impression that constitutional principles were noble ideals but inadequate for the governing of a people that – at its core – was derided, so much so that their pleas were ignored, echoing the old custom of relegating their recollections to the same placewhere, throughout our history, we have relegated the voice of the poor: oblivion.)
— Preface to the final report by the Commission on Truth and Reconciliation of Peru.
It is always encouraging to see a Peruvian movie that engages difficult but ongoing social problems. But it isn’t surprising; Peru’s problems are quite hard to ignore. Or maybe it’s because the Peruvian film industry is so small in relation to other Latin countries, that thosedoing the financing, including the state, can only justify the investment if the movie somehowreflects something of Peru’s ‘social reality’, a way to distinguish it both domestically and inforeign film festivals. Either way, it should really be applauded when a movie comes alongthat does so without compromising its artistic integrity; that is, does not make art thehandmaiden of moral outrage.This cannot be stressed strongly enough, considering the latent dominance of ideologicallymotivated pamphlets passing off as critical art (in a continent marked by the polemic image of the heroic revolutionary struggle), though the real temptation probably lies in the guise of escapist entertainment that, while claiming to reflect social realities, still relies upon the samedominant cultural and ideological stereotypes that they pretend to criticize. Not so Claudia Llosa’s ‘La Teta Asustada’ (‘The Milk of Sorrow’), a movie that avoids thesimple condemnation of Peru’s obvious social ills – terrorism, abuse of power by armedforces, economic exploitation, ethnic prejudice – choosing instead to focus on the internalexperiences of one character, placing more emphasis on mood and the subjective responses of the protagonist than on visually showing the significance of events as if they were a simplerelationship between cause and effect. Not that these other issues do not play a role. They do, though mostly out of sight; the weightof their presence is always felt. Instead, it is their subjective effect on individuals that themovie depicts.The movie’s opening immediately sets the tone. It begins in black, taking its time beforeintroducing the voice of a woman singing. It is in Quechua, the indigenous tongue still spoken by a large group of peoples centered on the Andean region. A translation communicates whatthe song is about. It turns out to be a harrowing description of oppression and sexual abuse(whether at the hands of terrorists or state troops, or both, is left unsaid). While the singingcontinues the black screen fades away. We then see to whom the voice belongs to: an old