In a world of foreign policies short on "doing the right thing" and long on "economic interests", Milcho Manchevski's first film "Before The Rain" makes a powerful plea for the former. At the same time, the film makes clear the futility of heroic activity in a landscape utterly lacking in heroic vision.

Old testament rage is the law of the land in the Balkans, but it doesn't end there. As this film makes painfully clear, you can run but you can't hide. The hatred is so powerful it is the dominant social force among the film's families. Their war is not about religion (though they may think so). It is about "500 years of our blood". Which is to say, it is about the past.

It is heartbreaking to see these families, so generous and nurturing to their own, become increasingly antagonistic toward each other. But therein lies the drama and it is only in the last third of the movie that we uncover just who these people really are. The first two-thirds involve other characters and events that are all connected, at least minimally, to the events rising to a boil in Macedonia. Everyone is involved. None are innocent, not even the children. They see everything the adults do. They carry guns, perhaps they kill. It is what they know.

The film beautifully mixes old Europe/new Europe images and cultures to show how the past clings to the present. An anchient monastery in one section, a busy London intersection in another, and nowhere is anyone safe.

Lyrical and lush in its cinematography, the film relies minimally on language seeing it as more part of the problem than method for solution. At its weaker moments, the symbolism gets a bit heavy-handed (vomiting as a narrative theme and that damn rain metaphor again and again) but these are minor complaints. Mr Manchevski's first film is a stunning accomplishment, and for the same price of admission one can watch the enormously compelling Katrin Cartlidge nearly steal the picture from Rade Serbedzija. Nearly but not quite, for, as the man who walks between both worlds, Mr Serbedzija brings us along with him on his journey back to a home which no longer exists and a hatred which has no end.

© Urban Desires - by Jackson Armaly

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