‘Before the Rain’ is a haunting and reminiscent film about the ethnic violence in the erstwhile Yugoslavia. The narratives are circular, and movie ends where it began. This was Milcho Manchevski, first attempt as a director in 1994.
This movie made on the most unsettled times and perhaps nothing more unsettling than the ethnic hatred and violence that had shred the Balkan conflicts in these tribal rivalries, those have existed for centuries and show a very little sign of fading. The trigger-happy youths with machine guns, scary emblems of grievances and hostility passed on from one generation to another. The core of both Christian and Muslim traditions has been archaic by the invidious ethic of an eye for an eye.
Before the Rain brought a vision of this conflict to the world that caused a sensation in the mid-1990s, winning the Golden Lion in Venice and an Academy Award nomination. Five years of increasingly horrific news from the former Yugoslavia, with fierce fighting and massacres in Croatia and Bosnia, made Milcho Manchevski’s agonizing yet lyrical film timely to a degree that few filmmakers have ever achieved. But this is far from a documentary treatment of Balkan violence, as Milcho Manchevski, a Macedonian himself, shot in his native country and first feature to be filmed there, after it became an independent republic following much political turmoil. Thus, it is of little surprise that the narrative largely concerns itself with the nature of violence and the divisions between people, particularly the ones that form in my ability to express oneself accurately. Interestingly this film is divided into three stories, all of which focus on tragic and ill-fated love affairs; with themes like Words, Faces & Pictures respectively
In the first story is about “Words”, we meet Kiril, a young monk who has taken a vow of silence, who stands up for Zamira, a young Albanian girl who is accused of murder and is on the run from a mob. For her sake, Kiril leaves the monastery and the two of them make their way through the Macedonian landscape, but their romance is heading towards a sudden and brutal end.
“Faces” is the second story, set in bustling and trendy London. Anne, a picture editor, is torn between the love of her husband Nick and the attraction she feels for Aleksandar, a disillusioned war photographer. She is pulled into a series of tragic events by a shoot-out at a nearby restaurant.
The third and final story, “Pictures”, brings the two previous stories together. It focuses on Aleksandar’s return to Macedonia to settle. He learns that the war has divided his home village and that his Albanian neighbors are now seen as enemies. Hana, an Albanian woman he was, and apparently still is, in love with, asks him to take care of her daughter Zamira. While Aleksandar sets out to find the girl, a storm is building on the horizon, and the film returns us to its beginning.
The director Manchevski having grown up in Skopje, and his education in US, where he began to make a reputation in music videos during the eighties. Looking at the arresting images and teasing dramatic structure of Before the Rain draw something from this experience. But if Manchevski belongs to the generation of filmmakers who have grown up with the pop culture and music videos as part of his natural vocabulary, his other inspiration is surely the western—an impression confirmed by his equally ambitious second feature, Dust (2001).
The specifics in the film are carefully balanced, not to provoke a cynical response of civil war, and he makes clear that it’s an endless and pessimistic fight as both Muslims and Christians blame and provoke the natural animal in them, the instinct of hatred. Though one claims to be avenging Christian Macedonian honor and the other Muslim Albanian values. But we should be clear that neither is meant to be typical of modern Macedonians, of the kind we see briefly when Aleksandar arrives in Skopje, any more than they’re typical of the idealists and opportunists everywhere that we call terrorists today.
The agenda was terrorism when Manchevski first wrote his outline for the film in 1991, after paying a return visit to Macedonia. But bombs, assassinations, and kidnappings were then more common in Britain, Italy, and Germany, as we’re reminded by the radio news Anne listens to in her photo-agency office during the London episode. Irish republican bomb alerts were almost routine in England from the seventies to the end of the nineties, which lends authenticity and poignancy to her parting with Aleksandar in a London cemetery. The film shows that he leaves her in a London under terrorist threat to go back to “peaceful” Macedonia. What is so striking about Manchevski’ s circular form, like a Borges story or an Alain Resnais film, is that Anne is effectively seeing images from the future on her London light box. This is a world linked by violence: much of it mediated by photography and news but all of it potentially local and bloody, as both protagonists will discover so brutally.
It was no doubt the sense that Manchevski express this movie, is more truly an European story, rather than merely a Balkan one. Before the Rain brought a certain image of the Balkans to a large audience, and launched both Macedonia and Manchevski on the world stage—as well as being the first film shot (partly) in Macedonian to be widely seen internationally. But with more than ten years of hindsight, we might wonder if its success was as much due to its timeliness as to its intrinsic qualities.
For me what emerged was how well Manchevski’s desire to create something that was not reportage or history or a political analysis in our part of the world, which had succeeded in leaving the film open to different interpretations. Besides the use of landscape are breathtaking. I only learned later how much Manchevski had actually created the landscape we might take to be typical Macedonia, patching up roads to inaccessible places and bringing together very different spaces to create a composite, as in the monastery around which the first episode is set. But what matters is not its authenticity as a place; rather it is the image of an apparently timeless pastoral landscape, as a contrast with a London that is, in reality, just as historic, and how he creates links, especially through the churches and cemeteries we see in both and through the graphic war photographs where Anne looking at in London while Aleksandar is back where the images have originated. Perhaps the film’s greatest achievement is to address our images of certain kinds of places, and the stories we expect to find there, and to disrupt these by showing how they are connected and have implications for each other.
Before the Rain’ is surely an important film in the 90’s that invited us to consider just where we stand on the future of “European civilization, which used to be a melting pot of cultural amalgamation” and now what do the future lie!! The outlook of tolerance and humanity is still under lenses
It’s through this seeming glitch that Before the Rain makes its most compelling argument for the inevitability of human action and the difficulty we have in affecting change. Life goes on and on, despite our best efforts to help or hinder it. In that sense, it is larger than us. Time is beyond our control. The same priest who first says that “Time never dies” amends that assertion in the final montage to “Time doesn’t wait.” The final shot of Aleksandar, though, and the beatific look on his face, tells us that this is not a warning to get out of its way, but instead an admonition that we best not dawdle too long before jumping in and at last say what we mean, to at last pick a side………Human triumph
- Directed by Milcho Manchevski
- Produced by Marc Baschet
- Written by Milcho Manchevskii
- Starring: Katrin Cartlidge and Rade Serbedzija
- Music by Anastasia
- Cinematography by Manuel Teran
- Editing by Nicolas Gaster
- Distributed by Mikado Film
- Release dates:1 September 1994 (premiered at Venice Film Festival)
- Run time of 113 minutes
- Country: Macedonia & United Kingdom
- Language: Macedonian; English & Albanian