email print share on Facebook share on Twitter share on reddit pin on Pinterest

BERLINALE 2020 Panorama

Review: Black Milk

by 

- BERLINALE 2020: Writer, director and star Uisenma Borchu uses the story of a woman returning to her sister in Mongolia to highlight cultural imperialism

Review: Black Milk
Uisenma Borchu and Gunsmaa Tsogzol in Black Milk

Black Milk [+see also:
trailer
interview: Uisenma Borchu
film profile
]
, the second film by director-writer-actress Uisenma Borchu (2015’s Don't Look at Me That Way [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Uisenma Borchu
film profile
]
), is a story of cultural heritage and yearning that manages to deconstruct patriarchy while highlighting the sense of estrangement felt by immigrants to Europe and their children. Landing in the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival, Borchu can add her name to the list of filmmakers at the 70th Berlinale who have made the most exciting collection of films (Mogul Mowgli [+see also:
film review
interview: Bassam Tariq
film profile
]
, Shine Your Eyes [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
and No Hard Feelings [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Faraz Shariat
film profile
]
) about double consciousness ever to appear in the same programme at a single film festival. Is it any coincidence that this has happened at a time when othered filmmakers are in higher numbers telling their own stories themselves?

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

A Mongolian woman dressed in a traditional costume stares towards us, the Gobi Desert serving as the backdrop for a scene in a photograph that sits by the bed of Wessi (writer-director Borchu plays the character based on a version of herself). In one sex scene with Victoria [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Sebastian Schipper
film profile
]
and Undine [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Christian Petzold
film profile
]
 star Franz Rogowski, she brilliantly deconstructs her life in Germany, the dominance of the male gender, and the almost colonial dismissal of her desire to go and visit her sister in Mongolia, a country she left as a small child.

That Wessi finds herself in Mongolia is a sign of her inner strength and determination, attributes that will be of benefit as well as a hindrance. The woman in the photo is her sister Ossi (Gunsmaa Tsogzol – all the actors are non-professionals and people the director knows). Where the film really excels is in portraying how Wessi tries to integrate with her birth country. The big surprise is how German she is! Wessi wants to immerse herself in Mongolian culture, but on surprisingly German terms. Her attitude is reminiscent of Nina Hoss’s depiction of German writer Corinne Hofmann in The White Masai [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
but has the added complexity that Wessi was born into the culture she no longer represents. Then throw into the mix the fact that Wessi falls for the weird loner Terbish (Terbish Demberel) that her sister warns her off, and you have a combustible and confusing view of the world – one that shows the power of cultural imperialism and how deep-rooted it is. Even the clothing choices play into this.

There is a jarring voiceover narration that plays with perspectives, and the use of allegory can sometimes leave little to the imagination, especially when it comes to the goats and horses. The rape scene is perhaps shot too ambiguously to have the impact it should. What's left in no doubt is that the strength of patriarchy is everywhere, and the sisters start influencing each other in unexpected ways, talking about beauty, fantasies and infatuation. The cinematography of Sven Zellner captures the vast landscape and beauty, but also offers a darker and more raw view of a land that is so often romanticised on film.

Black Milk is a work that confounds expectations and gives insights into the myriad influences that Wessi has. It's a unique perspective in cinema, but one that will be recognised by the very many who feel othered because of their heritage, who have one foot each in two different boats that are seemingly travelling in different directions.

Black Milk is a German-Mongolian co-production. It is a Nine Film and Alpenrepublik Filmverleih presentation of a Zellner und Borchu Film GbR production, in co-production with Bayerischer Rundfunk and Gunsmaa Tsogzol. Nine Film handles its international sales.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.

Privacy Policy