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Analysis of Before the Rain

Danika Li, Andrea Cancino Saenz, Ryan Hadfield

University of Utah

POLS 5625

Professor Brent Steele

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Manchevskis Before the Rain is set in a time of deepening political turbulence and

conflict between Christians and Muslims in Macedonia (formerly known as Yugoslavia)

following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The film weaves together threads of conflict in three

separate parts, entitled Words, Faces, and Pictures. In part one, the audience is introduced

to Kiril, a young monk residing at a monastery who has taken a vow of silence. Father Marko

tells him to come back to the monastery and on their way back you hear the quote Time never

dies. The circle is not round, for the first of three times. Upon returning to his room that night,

Kiril discovers Zamira -- a young Albanian girl from the nearby village. Although Kiril initially

plans on turning her in, he decides against it. As Kiril runs towards the monastery the next day,

the viewer is briefly shown a funeral that you later realize is Aleksandars.

While praying and singing, the monks are interrupted by Mitre, a Christian who is

hunting Zamira down for supposedly murdering his brother. Although the Father is initially

reluctant to allow Mitre and his men inside the monastery, he grants them access when all the

monks deny knowing where Zamira is. Once inside, Mitre and his men tear up Kirils room

looking for Zamira, but they are unsuccessful. Tensions almost spill over when one of Mitres

men shoots a cat despite Kirils attempts to stop him. Although they dont find Zamira, the men

remain suspicious and stay within the monastery.

After a night of heavy rain, Zamira is discovered by Father Marko who reluctantly expels

Kiril from the monastery. After sneaking past Mitres men, Kiril and Zamira make for the

countryside and Kiril breaks his vow of silence, telling her about his uncle (Aleksandar). They

are interrupted by Zamiras family, who hit and berate her for being a whore and potentially

starting a war between their villages. They demand that Kiril leave, although Zamira stops him,

saying that theyre in love. Against her brothers orders, Zamira runs towards Kiril before she is
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gunned down. Words ends with a scene of Kiril gazing over Zamiras body while her brother

falls to the ground in despair in the background.

Faces takes place in London and begins with a photographer named Anne, who is

reviewing photographs of Zamiras death. As she leaves her workspace, she meets up with a

man named Aleksandar, a photographer originally from Macedonia. As they talk, it is evident

that Anne is married to a man named Nick, and that she is having an affair with Alex. Alex

attempts to convince Anne to come back to Macedonia with him, but she refuses.

Anne then meets with her husband at a restaurant. As they begin conversing, it is

revealed that they have been having marital issues. In the background, a slowly escalating

argument arises between an unknown man and the restaurant staff, and the man storms out of the

building. Nick then states at least the war is fought civilly here. Anne then tells Nick that she

is pregnant. As Nick celebrates and begins to talk of plans for their future, Anne becomes

uncomfortable and insists that they leave, but Nick refuses. She tells Nick that she doesnt want

to be with him anymore. The man who was arguing with the restaurant staff then storms back

into the restaurant, and begins firing a pistol at everyone in the restaurant. He shoots Nick and

the scene fades out with Anne holding Nicks body.

The third part of the film, Pictures, takes place in Alexs homeland in Macedonia,

which is somewhat familiar but at the same time completely foreign. When he sees his home, it

looks completely dilapidated from the violence and conflict that has taken place. Alex reunites

with his family members and as he converses with his brothers and cousins, the stark ideological

differences between the characters becomes more apparent. Despite coming from the same

country, speaking the same language, and even sharing the same family, Alex is disconnected
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from his siblings. The time he spent as a freelance photographer around the world has

significantly changed his worldview.

Alex plans to meet with one of his old friends named Hana, but his family advises against

it because her father is extremely opposed to Macedonians. Despite already having a history with

Hana, Alex decides to bring some presents for her family in hopes that this gesture will soften

any prejudices. When he finally pays a visit to Hanas home, he is well-received by the patriarch

of the family but his only interaction with Hana is when she comes into the parlor to offer him

tea very formally. The only person who really meets Alex with any disdain is Zamiras brother,

who is a radical young adult completely bought into the ethnic conflict. He calls Alex a pig and

asks why he is even in the house. All of these mixed reactions are very strange especially since

the film never explicitly stated the extent Alex and Hanas history together.

One night Alex wakes up to see Hana standing in the corner of his room asking for his

help to watch over her daughter, Zamira. She asks him to treat her as if she were his own

daughter. In a later scene, we see Alex typing out an email to his friend Anne back in England.

He tells a story about a time when he was doing freelance photography and he killed someone

with his camera. He was following around a soldier or officer of some sort, and he was lightly

talking about how he wishes there were more excitement around for him to photograph. In

response, the officer turned to a prisoner of war and shot him. Alex caught the whole thing on

camera. After writing out this memory, he finds the photographs he took that day and rips them


Later in the film, Alexs family member Bojan dies and there is speculation that he was

killed by Zamira. Alex searches for Zamira, knowing that hell have to go up against the men in

his family who want to avenge Bojans death. Alex finds Zamira in a small hut with his cousin
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Zdrave, and he grabs Zamira by the arm to lead her away from her captors. He then begins to

argue with Zdrave saying that he is not justified in killing Zamira just because she was vaguely

involved with Bojans death. Alex and Zamira walk away and Zdrave threatens to shoot and

Alex simply says, then do it while continuing to walk. After a few misfires, Zdrave ends up

shooting Alex in the back and Zamira runs off into the mountains. Zdrave despairs that he had

to shoot Alex, and rain begins to pour. As the camera pans out from where Zamira is running, it

reveals the opening scene of the movie in which Kiril is picking tomatoes with the Father telling

him to come inside because it is going to rain.

There was a sentence present in all three segments of the film, which was interpreted by

our group as encompassing the essence of the film itself in the quote. Time doesnt wait,

indicates that regardless of your actions, violence inevitably escalates. In all three parts of the

movies, although characters made efforts to distance themselves, the violence followed.

Additionally, the escalation of violence in each section was very abrupt, and with the exception

of Pictures, was unexpected. Kiril thinks that he and Zamira have escaped and are safe and

Anne thinks she has escaped the war by staying back in London. In these instances, time didnt

wait for them to run farther away, it had been creeping along inevitably just as the rain was

ominously looming in the backdrop of each part.

The circle is not round, refers to a very interesting discrepancy in the films plot. The

way the film is structured implies that the plot is linear, and for the most part it does seem to be.

After Zamira dies, her photo is shown with Anne in part two, and Alex then travels to Macedonia

in what seems like a logical part three. The discrepancy is first revealed when Zamira shows up

at Hanas house in part three. Additionally, once Alex dies the plot loops back into part one,

showing the first scene again. It is at this point that you realize the funeral Kiril ran by in part
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one is Alexs. The nonlinear plotline also serves the point that regardless of the circumstances,

the consequences of war and conflict are inevitable.

However, our group didnt view this as completely restrictive. Although the end result of

each part of the movie was in violence and death, the agency that each character chose to express

changed the nature of the conflict -- at least for that character. During the war, Alex felt that he

had killed with his camera by being a bystander. Although the end result of him trying to save

Zamira is also death, by expressing his agency he no longer became a perpetrator of that


The characters all show different levels of agency at different instances of the film.

Characters like Alex and Kiril are more self-critical and as a result they increasingly act more

deliberately as the film goes on. They use their agency to try and stop violence even though they

are not completely successful. Contrastingly, Alexs family members are very static characters

and they never choose to break away from the normalized ethnic stigmas. Zamiras character is

also static because she has limited agency due to her circumstances.

During the third part of the film, a lot of the characters are not killed by the enemy but

by members of their own family. Zamiras death at the beginning of the film and Alexs death at

the end are both brought upon by members of their family. Both scenes also share similar

reaction shots of the shooters eyes widening as if they couldnt believe what had just happened.

These reaction shots echo what Hannah Arendt calls the banality of evil, showing even

someone who wants to identify as moral be guilty of committing acts of evil. Alex and Zamiras

family members werent necessarily evil people, but they allowed themselves to be overtaken by

logics of ethnic hatred and never chose an alternative action. Even when confronted by Alex,
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who is part of their in-group, they chose to remain under the illusion of normalized violence

between two groups purely based on the difference in ethnic identity.

Unfortunately, even the shock of having killed one of their own isnt enough to push

these characters towards taking responsibility for their actions. Every time Alexs family

members contribute to the violence and the ethnic tensions in the country, they act as though

they had no other choice. When Zamira was automatically blamed for the death of Bojan, the

men believed that their newfound obligation was to avenge his death. However, the film never

discloses how Bojan died nor does it address to what degree Zamira was involved in his death.

This ambiguity leaves the audience to judge the characters under their own speculations. For

example, what if Zamira killed Bojan in self-defense? This narrative would likely cause the

audience to judge her differently than if she had killed him in cold blood out of ethnic hatred.

Zamira on the other hand seems to have extremely limited agency. Throughout the film

she is always on the run from threats. She has to hide from the gang of men who are looking for

her and she even runs from her family who end shooting her in an attempt to stop her from

running off with Kiril. The other male characters in the film constantly call her vulgar names like

slut or whore, and they use her as a sort of scapegoat by blaming her for the deaths of Bojan,

Alex, and even herself. Zamiras character is the most vague, and because the audience doesnt

know much about her or the motivation behind her actions she is not prone to the same level of

judgement as the other more fleshed-out characters.

Because the movie is set upon conflict, the role of Anne is to act as juxtaposition to the

ethnic turmoil in Macedonia. Throughout the movie, we see issues brought up by religious,

ethnic, family, and human conflict. Anne is married to a man that she doesnt want to be with,

while also having an affair with a man that she doesnt want to stay with. Her story was fit in
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with the common theme that conflict is inevitable, and that we are all affected by the conflict that

happens in the world. Not only was she influenced by the Macedonian ethnic battle through her

work in editing photos, but also through her romance with Aleksandar. As she lets Aleksandar

leave, ironically she is still affected by the conflict as her husband is shot in the restaurant.

The most prominent conflict that our group decided to focus on was the ethnic conflict

between the Macedonians and the Albanians. This conflict has divided the villages in the film,

creating a separate ethics for the Macedonian Orthodox Christians versus the Albanian

Muslims. This is shown partially through Kirils story, but more effectively through Alexs.

Although Alex is a member of the Macedonian Christian village through his family, his time

abroad and in London has largely removed him from this conflict. To him, it was never a choice

between the Albanians and the Macedonians or between the Christians and the Muslims, but

only choices between what he personally viewed as ethical or not.

Because Alex isnt immersed in the ethnic and religious conflict that his family members

find themselves coerced by, Alexs primary conflict comes through his ethical obligation to

family ties versus his obligations to his own cultivated ethics. This conflict comes to a head

when he makes the decision to throw away his pictures, casting aside his past as a bystander, and

choosing to try and save Zamira. He has violated the ethics of familial ties, depriving Mitre of

his revenge for his brother Bojan. Instead, he picks the side of what he believes to be right.

Alexs choice based on his own ethics cuts across the other interpretations of ethics and loyalty

that Mitre and Zdrave hold not only as a familial clan but also as members of an ethnic and

religious group.

The ethical lesson of the film is that you will always have identities that clash with one

another. Everyone lets a portion of who they are direct or justify each action, and often these
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identities are at odds with one another. For example, Aleksandar kills a man with his camera,

which leads him to give up the identity of a gawking photographer who just records violence and

never acts to stop it. He then lets his love for Hana lead him to search for and help Zamira, even

though his direct family is holding her hostage. Both conflicts resulted in death, but in each case

Alexs ethics are completely different. Throughout the film, he must choose to forgo parts of his

identity in order to do the right thing and accept the consequences of his actions. This universal

plight can be found throughout history and in the present day as people and states reflect on

aspects of their identities that may not be the most ethically sound. It is difficult to be self-critical

but it is the most important thing to do in order to progress ethically.

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