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‘Before the Rain’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 10, 1995


Milcho Manchevski
Gregoire Colin;
Labina Mitevska;
Katrin Cartlidge
nudity, wartime brutality and one particularly disturbing act of violence toward a cat. In English, Macedonian and Albanian with subtitles

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WITH SO MANY Hollywood movies liposucked of all available enigma, mystique and cosmic significance, it's a special pleasure to savor "Before the Rain." This Macedonian movie, a candidate for Best Foreign Picture this year, is rich with mystery.

Even though writer-director Milcho Manchevski's debut feature is elliptical, it does not get lost in obtuseness. A three-episode drama that examines the destruction of personal relationships at the brutal hands of war, it literally thunders with emotional power.

Figuring in all three stories is a sporadic, ongoing war between Christian Macedonians and Albanian Muslims. The strife (which, one Christian character vehemently points out, is inflamed by 500 years of former Muslim occupation in this region) rumbles on, with the dismal prospect of never ending. Caught in the omnipresent, self-perpetuating hostilities are normal, innocent individuals, whose desires to lead normal, happy lives are always in danger.

"Words," the first segment, takes place in and around a Macedonian hilltop monastery, where a young monk called Kiril (Gregoire Colin) is hiding a girl from armed Christian villagers. The soldiers, who claim the girl has killed one of their own, invade and ransack the sacred building. But Kiril, who is observing a two-year vow of silence, and is growingly attracted to the girl, does not betray her to his religious superiors or the brutal militants.

In "Faces," Anne (Katrin Cartlidge -- the mumbling, emotionally abused character in Mike Leigh's "Naked"), a photo editor in London, tries to resolve her personal life. It's complicated by an estranged marriage to Nick (Jay Villiers), her passionate affair with Macedonian war photographer Aleksandar (Rade Serbedzija), and the sudden news that she's pregnant.

In the third episode ("Pictures"), Aleksandar decides to return to Macedonia after a 16-year absence. But the initially warm reception at his home village (which happens to be the one from the first story) soon changes to outright hostility when he attempts to look up an old girlfriend from the Albanian side.

Filmmaker Manchevski fractures most of the linear connections between each story, in favor of a more emotional, thematic series of connections. Characters reappear in other stories, as if nothing had happened to them in previous episodes. Manchevski seems to be playing with the fates, creating parallel universes for his people. But the artistic tampering is not distancing or rarefied; rather, it enhances and deepens things.

Manchevski pushes the aforementioned juxtapositions and his pending-rain atmospherics a little too obviously at times. But his heartfelt conviction comes through, as does his ability to combine unrelenting tension with poignant moments between people (opposed in matters of love, war or both). Noticeably more sophisticated and narratively open-ended than Hollywood's formula fare, "Before the Rain," which is about the big, the small and the unexplainable, feels global, all-encompassing and vital.

BEFORE THE RAIN (Unrated) -- Contains nudity, wartime brutality and one particularly disturbing act of violence toward a cat. In English, Macedonian and Albanian with subtitles.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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