Trauma is buried and rarely alluded to in this quiet slice of magical realism—but there’s no denying the pain when it comes. We are in dusty Lima, Peru, and its lush surroundings, where the brutality of the “Shining Path” guerrilla campaigns of the ’80s lingers only in local song lyrics. But for anxious, teary-eyed Fausta (Solier, in a phenomenally concentrated performance), these memories have somehow been transmitted to her young body, through her mother’s breast milk (see title). Fausta is terrified of violation and of walking alone; a doctor is deeply concerned by her intimate use of a potato.
Writer-director Claudia Llosa confidently steps back from her lovely, sad protagonist, situating Fausta in a bumptious family (her aunt is a wedding planner, so there’s lots of happy noise). But the transformation that you anticipate never comes; the movie feels strangled. Fausta’s job as a house servant for an imperious pianist (Snchez) yields little, even after the appearance of an attentive, swarthy gardener. There’s enough visual atmosphere here to single Llosa out as a comer, attuned to the rituals of family life without turning them into banalities. But she probably should lay off the milk of sorrow herself when conceiving her next main character.—Joshua Rothkopf