Directed by Milcho Manchevski
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 113 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo surround Macedonian/English/Albanian
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: June 24, 2008
Review Date: June 16, 2008
Milcho Manchevski’s Before the Rain is a treatise against hate, primarily against ethnic and class hatred. The palatable violence that we see in this triptych involve civil strife of the most venal nature. It’s important to note that even though the filmmaker doesn’t tell his story linearly, it doesn’t stop the message from getting through. Hatred breeds war which leads to violence, and everyone comes out a loser in the end.
Aleksandra (Rade Serbedzija) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who has just ended his affair with London photo agent Anne (Katrin Cartlidge) when he learns that she’s pregnant with her estranged husband’s child. Returning to his homeland of Macedonia, he’s drawn into a family skirmish when he visits an old lover of his, Hana (Silvija Stojanovska) after he learns that her husband has recently died. He seems to have hope that even though his homeland is in turmoil with naked children baring machine guns in the streets and strangers regarded with intense scrutiny for merely walking down a thoroughfare, he can go back to his home and start anew with hope for a happy future. The odds of that happening, however, are practically nil.
Amid the vivacious grandeur of the Macedonian countryside (the astonishing landscapes appear to be painted by Breughel), director Manchevski establishes much suspicion, bitterness, and woe. Death abounds in the region (each of the three sections of the story ends in one or more violent murders), and one is never in repose (as likely neither are the area’s residents) for fear of the posses of vigilantes that scour the area looking for insurgents. Surprisingly, one of the segments takes place in London which isn’t above its own civil disturbances. News broadcasts on the radio blare out a recent bombing while a quiet dinner at a fancy restaurant isn’t “safe ground” either from potential violence. Manchevski is saying it’s all around us, and unless strong measures are made to stop the hatred, bloodshed isn’t going to cease.
We’re kept even more off-kilter with the non-linear storytelling of the director’s script. Divided in three sections, the second section is actually the beginning of the story, followed by section three and ending with the film’s first section. Thinking of the film as an endless loop playing over and over until its anti-hatred message is dunned into our ears, the director and his star are both antiwar activists, and the film is an assaulting testament to their political stances. Alas, though the message is loud and clear, characterization gets the short end of the stick in the director's screenplay with a handful of really interesting people whose stories aren’t fully fleshed out for complete satisfaction. What we see of Alex and Anne and some other tragic characters in parts one and three only whets our appetites for fuller storytelling.
The actors do marvelous things with the roles they’ve been handed. Rade Serbedzija makes a haunting and tragic protagonist, winning prizes for war photographs when all he wants now is peace and quiet. Katrin Cartlidge makes a sad, winsome Anne, her indecision of staying with her loving but dull husband Nick (Jay Villiers) or going off with the dashing war photojournalist made all the more difficult by her ensuing pregnancy. We’d like to have had much more interaction with the silent Father Kiril (Gregoire Colin) and the girl he shelters Zamira (Labina Mitevska) and seemingly leaves the priesthood for.
The film is presented here with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. Though color saturation in the Macedonian sections is very strong, the picture could have been sharper particularly in medium and long shots. The London sequence is sharper but desaturated to a startling degree since the Macedonian sequences bookend the film. The film is in beautiful shape with no age artifacts present at all (the trailers show a great deal of dirt and debris). The white subtitles are easy to read. The film has been divided into 18 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo surround track is noticeably loud with the volume needing to be turned down even during the Universal logo. The music by the group Anastasia is the primary inhabitant of the surround channels though there are occasional ambient effects present and even a bit of directionialzed dialog, too. There is also some nice bass worked into the mix.
Film professor Annette Insdorf and director Milcho Manchevski participate in a superb audio commentary. Being a great enthusiast of the film, Insdorf is able to pose interesting, probing questions to the director as the film unspools which he answers with exceptional detail and intensity. This emerges as one of the best duo commentaries it’s ever been my experience to enjoy.
Actor Rade Serbedzija participates in a fact-based interview about his work on the film. The anamorphic featurette runs 16 minutes.
“Behind the Scenes in Macedonia” is a 4:3 making-of documentary featuring interviews with the director, producer, and some of the actors describing their work on the feature. This runs for 15 ¼ minutes.
A 5 ¼-minute montage of footage shot during rehearsals and various takes on selected scenes shows us the director working with the actors in both Macedonia and London. It’s not narrated nor organized and is shot 4:3.
Six sections of the film may be selected to be experienced with just a music and effects track option. Together the selections run 15 ¾ minutes, or the viewer may choose the sections individually. All feature music by the group Anastasia.
3 theatrical trailers for the film are available for viewing: the international trailer, the trailer for the U.S. release, and a recut American trailer that inevitably wasn’t used. Each one runs 2 ¼ minutes.
A lengthy stills and production gallery features 26 black and white and color stills from the film and some shot behind-the-scenes. There are also pages of storyboards, poster and production design sketches, and letters concerning the production.
80 photographs from the director’s book of photography called Street can be viewed in single frames.
The director’s award-winning music video “Tennessee” by the group Arrested Development runs 4 minutes in nonanamorphic letterbox.
An enclosed 14-page booklet contains black and white and color stills from the film along with cast and crew lists, the chapter listing, and an appreciative essay on the director and his work by film professor Ian Christie.
An overpoweringly sad, reflective plea for an end to hatred and civil disturbance, Before the Rain is a haunting and in many ways memorable film. It had the makings of greatness (it even won the Golden Lion at the 1994 Venice Film Festival), but even with its few shortcomings, it’s still a worthy and worthwhile film.