I would like to publicly thank a wonderful friend I met through DVDTALK without whose persistent efforts this DVD release would have not been possible. Your assistance and above all passion were invaluable.
Thank you Prentice!
Arguably the most important Macedonian film ever made as well as the most highly decorated one Milcho Manchevski's Before the Rain (1994) is now part of the prestigious Criterion collection. Boasting a director-approved transfer this new release is the first commercial DVD presentation of the film worldwide.
A young Christian monk (Grégoire Colin) willing to confront his faith in order to save a helpless Muslim girl, a Macedonian reporter (Rade Serbedzija) who has immigrated to London, and a British photo agent (Katrin Cartlidge) are in the middle of a complex tale attempting to understand ethnic hatred on the Balkans.
Kiril who lives in a secluded monastery and has taken a vow of silence encounters a desperate Muslim Albanian girl running away from a band of orthodox Christians. He saves her life and eventually leaves the monastery with his new friend. Shortly after the couple meets a group of Albanian extremists, the girl's relatives amongst them, not too far away from the monastery. The girl is killed and Kiril asked to leave.
Aleksander has left his native Macedonia to seek recognition of his talents abroad. And he has done well winning a Pulitzer Prize. After years of exile he is finally flying back home. But his country is now the stage for a bloody ethnic conflict where Christians and Muslims are fighting each other.
Anne who has long been in love with Alekander is desperately trying to keep him in London. She is ready to do whatever is necessary to prevent him from going back to the war-ridden Balkans. But the more she tries to change Aleksander's mind the more she realizes that their love is now a thing of the past.
In Before the Rain a fractured story about loss and endurance is used as a pretext for a disturbing portrait of a region troubled by ethnic and religious hatred. With portions of the film focused on the source of the drama and how it is assimilated by those abroad Manchevski's film is also an intimate study of life in Macedonia - a country often the target of ambitious political interests deeply-rooted in old Europe's history. Here, more so than in any other contemporary film I have seen about life on the Balkans, however, reality is notably displaced by a nagging sense of hopelessness.
The time capsule Manchevski places his audience in Before the Rain allows the viewer to analyze events from two very distant angles. The first, and in my opinion more disturbing one, has to do with the purely fanatical emotions running through some of the film's more antagonizing scenes. Violence here is bizarre, brutal, and overpowering prompting despicable acts. Yet, it is what everyone on both sides of the conflict easily justifies.
The second read of the story is also the one which more or less fuels the sense of hopelessness I mentioned earlier. It begins with Aleksander's departure of London and his inability to remain impartial to the conflict in his home land. He is consequently seen struggling with the love of two women - one he left behind years ago and another reality has taken away from him. Why the sense of hopelessness? Because the quicker Aleksander embraces his past, symbolically reintroduced through his failed attempts to regain the love of a Muslim woman, the more devastating is the effect of his realization that the country he once left behind hasn't changed. Only time has passed.
As a universal depiction of life on the Balkans Before the Rain is just as impressive. Even with the untypical philosophical lines the main protagonists are awarded with (Time never dies.The circle is never round) placed aside Machevski still brings forward the largely controversial nature of a region stuck in the past where culture, faith, and religion are easily manipulated under heinous, charged with criminal intent, pretexts.
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and enhanced for widescreen TVs this new, director-approved, print looks marvelous. Criterion have done a phenomenal job in providing a transfer which in my opinion is nothing short of top-notch. Colors are warm and natural, contrast is simply flawless, and film grain preserved. Furthermore, edge-enhancement is kept to an absolute minimum and even when blown-out through a projector the print remains as tight and as convincing as possible. Debris, specks, or damage are nowhere to be seen either. To sum it all up this Criterion presentation is precisely what Manchevski's film deserves.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with a DD mix of Macedonian, Albanian, and English the audio is just as impressive as the video is. Dialog is crystal clear and very easy to follow with the beautiful soundtrack by Anastasia coming off the speakers flawlessly. The optional English subtitles are very well done preserving the integrity of the spoken dialog.
The Criterion team has added very interesting extras to this disc. First, there is an excellent booklet with a long and very informative essay by Professor Ian Christie from Birkbeck College at the University of London. Professor Christie writes about the message of the film, what it attempts to reveal, and how it compares to similar works. On the actual disc there is a lovely commentary by film scholar Annette Insdorf and Milcho Manchevski where the two go into great detail deconstructing Before The Rain, its success, agenda, and importance. My favorite supplemental bit here however is the rather long interview with Croatian actor Rade Serbedzija who recalls the days of shooting with Milcho Manchevski, what it took for him to become Aleksander. Next, there is a short segment titled "Behind The Scenes in Macedonia" which was shot in 1993. What follows up is a small selection with tunes from the exceptional soundtrack by Anastasia (I highly recommend to those interested in great film music to look for it). Next, there is a gallery of trailers and on-set footage as well as production stills, storyboards, and letters. Next, there is nice little surprise by the Criterion team where they offer a selection of photos by Milcho Manchevski titled Streets. Finally, the disc offers the director's award-winning video "Tennessee" (Arrested Development).
I am incredibly grateful that the Criterion team made this DVD release a reality. Before The Rain holds a very special place in my heart for personal reasons I am not willing to share publicly. Suffice to say I am truly honored to own this excellent disc in my collection. DVDTALK Collector Series.