Before the Rain (1994)

A contender for this year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and proud possessor of half a Golden Lion from the Venice Film Festival, this international co-production addresses from an oblique angle the chaotic slide into race war in the former communist bloc. Though full of references to the conflict in Bosnia (and Ulster, for that matter), Manchevski's three-decker film is mainly concerned with tensions between Christians and Muslims in a hinterland between Macedonia and Albania, though the central episode of its triptych is set in a strange-looking media London.

Three stories, linked by the never-seen killing of a Macedonian shepherd by an Albanian girl, focus on outsiders drawn into escalating violence. A silent monk (Colin) shelters the fugitive girl and falls in love; an English woman (Cartlidge) has an affair with an exiled photographer; and the photographer (Serbedzija) returns to his village to find it divided into armed camps. Inevitably, each story ends with someone needlessly gunned down by someone else who didn't really mean it.

Like Pulp Fiction, Before the Rain tells its stories out of chronological order so dead characters come back, though it has a slightly circular, surreal structure as its overall plot swallows its own tail, giving the film a tragic resonance. Well-played, with a number of affecting and scary little moments (children playing with real guns), this opts a few too many times for the obvious irony, but it has an unnerving feel, angrily observing the way meaningless violence can suddenly blossom and suck in innocents.

First Published In: Empire no.75 (September 1995) p.40 p.40

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