I’m not sure that “Before the Rain”(“Pred dozhdot), a 1995 Oscar nominee for best foreign-language film, written and directed by Milcho Manchevski, is a good movie, but have no doubt that it is a great one. It is comprised of three episodes: the first two near the coast of Macedonia, the middle one in London. What happens in the third one follows the second one and seems to precede the astonishing opening one… but the second one also temporally follows events in the first one. “The circle is not round” is proclaimed in all three parts and in some ways the movie is more a Moibus strip than a circle. The Balkans is a region in which the past never seems to be past, in which outrages five or ten centuries ago are believed to cry out for revenge.
Fierce hatred of Greek Orthodox Macedonians and Muslim Albanians bubbles over repeatedly throughout the course of the movie. The kind of ethnic warfare that was going on in Bosnia at the time the film was being shot broke out in 2001. It could have surprised no one who had seen “Before the Rain” before then.
I don’t like to regurgitate plot unless I can do so in ways that comment on it. I think that “plot spoiling” is exaggerated as a crime against readers generally, but in the case of “Before the Rain,” telling pretty much anything of what happens is at least a disservice to those who have not seen the movie — and that is, alas, a far-too-large population!
In the first part of Kiril, a young priest played by Grégoire Colin (Beau Travail), who has taken a vow of silence (getting around the actor not speaking Macedonian) harbors a Muslim (a feral Labina Mitevska whose character’s name is eventually revealed to be Zamira) who is being hunted by the Christians. Colin radiates compassion, which turns out to be a very dangerous feeling in all three parts of the movie.
The second part is set in London, introducing a Macedonian photojournalist, Aleksander (Rade S[h]erbezija) who has just won a Pulitzer Prize for work in Bosnia. He invites a married (and pregnant) London picture-editor, Anne (Katrin Cartlidge), to accompany him on a return to his native village. She stays to ask her husband for a divorce.
In the third part, Aleksander discovers “you can’t go home again,” all the more so if “home” was Yugoslavia, and all the more if you want to see the love of your youth who is of a different ethnicity (the Albanian minority in this case). Haunted by what he saw in Bosnia and desperate to prevent similar fratricide (among those who have ceased to consider themselves “brothers”), he takes action, which involves Zamira — who may be his daughter.
The writing is very impressive, the cinematography by Manuel Teran (Savage Nights, Banlieue 13), especially of the first part, is more than impressive. Each of the three parts has a different look. The first part is in the company of parts of “The English Patient” and “Beau travail.”
Katrin Cartlidge (Naked, Breaking the Waves) stands out in the middle section as someone knowingly disappointing both her husband and her lover and pained by the knowledge. As Aleksander Rade Serbezija is tormented by guilt for a prisoner who was shot after Aleksander complained of not having anything to photograph. At “home” after nearly being killed by family members and the son of his old flame, he takes a stand against ethnic violence. Well, more than a stance — he intervenes. That he fails to stop the violence is something anyone with the slightest familiarity of the history of the Balkans during the last two decades knows.
The Criterion edition transfer to DVD is outstanding even for Criterion, which is to say superlative. This was obvious watching the feature, and underlined by watching the 1993 “making of” featurette, which is quite interesting. The disc also includes a 2008 interview with Rade Serbezija about the movie, which paralleled his own experience as an ethnically Serbian prominent person raised in Croatia — and who had just made it out of Sarajevo before the Serbian military began the siege and carnage. Serbezija (whom I remember most vividly as the Greek trickster in “The Truce” and the police inspector in “The Quiet American,” but is probably best known for his mentoring role in “Batman Begins”) recalls people who were fans of his (as the biggest film star in Yugoslavia) and a year later wanted to kill him (Croatians with whom he grew up for being “a Serb,” Serbs for being a “traitor” in condemning the violence). The movie shows, the bonus features tell (the way it’s ‘spozed to be!)
There is also five minutes of miscellaneous videos from the movie’s making, 15 minutes of soundtrack selections, and Manchevski’s 1992 Grammy-winning (black-and-white) rap music video “Tennessee” (the Arrested Development song).
©2009, 2017, Stephen O. Murray