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Before the Rain or Before the War

Before the Rain or Before the War

Daniela Antonovska (Skopje, Macedonia)
Course; Gender, sexuality and violent conflict

Before the Rain or Before the War 


The films’ script was written by Milcho Manchevski in 1991 after a visit to his birth land, Macedonia. Before the rain shared the Golden Lion of Venice in 1994 and awards from other film festivals, but its highest achievement was an Oscar nomination for best-foreign language film. The events take place in the time when Macedonia was rounded by ethnic conflicts that dominated the life of the bordering countries of Macedonia. This was the result of the war in the former Yugoslavia, whose dissolution led to the former of smaller independent countries. Macedonia was one of them, but its independence and territorial integrity were still disputed. Even though being an independent on the political map of Europe, Macedonia’s population was not homogenous.

The film treats the conflicts that existed between Macedonian Christians and Albanian Muslims living in Macedonia, it is nothing more than the exploration of the vicious circle of violence in Balkans showing the case of Macedonia. The film is the depiction of the two different worlds Balkan and the West, Balkan is represent as a less civilized part of Europe, where ‘primitive barbarians’ mercilessly and impulsively act out an ‘’eye for an eye’’ philosophy. The film produce the idea of the Balkans as a ‘’repository of negative characteristics against which a positive and self-congratulatory image of the ‘European and the West ‘has been constructed. The film by Macedonian viewers was seen as a prediction of the conflict in 2001. Violence in Balkan was so widely spread that Balkans wars and conflicts affected other innocent people and bystanders and its influence was felt everywhere around the world which is very visible the film.

Main part - Elaboration

Macedonia  is one of the successor states  of the former Yugoslavia, from which it declared independence in 1991 after  the referendum with which Macedonians voted for independence from Yugoslavia. Macedonia is a multi-ethnic society, consist of approximately 67% Macedonian Orthodox Christians, almost 25% Albanian Muslims and ethnicities such as Turks, Roma, Serbs, Croatians, Bosniaks, Aromanians, Slovenians. Around ’90 the ethnic hatred in Yugoslavia and Balkan region escalated in conflicts and wars. The situation does not pass Macedonia. Macedonia has during the 1990 not experienced war directly on its territory but in 2001 the difference between the two major ethnic communities living in the country , Macedonians and Albanians escalated in armed conflict that last 6 months. 

Till the ’90 Macedonians and Albanians were living together on the same land, without visible signs of confrontation between them, although the nationalism in both ethnic groups was very much present and the wish for power and dominance was very strong but hidden under the surface.

The tense atmosphere in the country was feeling in the air, a majority of population expects and calculate with escalation of violence and conflict in a foreseeable near future. The joint community has been broken up and the line of demarcation between the 2 groups has been drawn. The groups were structured according to the cultural and linguistic features so that the distinction between Albanians and Macedonians has become over emphasized. 

As the bloodshed is very primitive, the reason for bloodshed shown in the film must be more primitive and that is forbidden sex, sex with someone not from us, with a woman not from our women, with the other. Main female character in the film is Zamira, a young Albanian girl who is depiction of a new generation of Albanian women , representative of non co-opted younger women who are breaking the cultural stereotypes. In her role we can see the depiction of love and individual humanity against societal cruelty. She is the representative of the Nation, and on the other hand male characters presented in the movie are personification of the armed conflict. She as a women is a Nation, and as a nation she is loved , protected, desired, but Nation as a woman is less loyal, more corrupted which we can see from her love with someone not belonging to ‘’hers’’. Her forbidden love and trait of her Nation cause hunt for her because she is destabilizing element. Nationhood and state are mainly indentificated with women. Women are the incarnation of the Nation, but before the nation gives women the central position it try to usurpation the womenhood, at first in its own nation and later broadly. We can see that form the behavior of men toward women in their nation, in the movie it is clearly seen the subordinated role of women as a mother, and wife without the right her voice to be heard and respected. On the other hand men (both) Macedonians and Albanians are shown as a dominant, power, who are able to take arms in their hands for every small reason and without the reason, who guard the interest of its nation. The nation hero is the men and the woman is only mother of the sons and soldiers and the birth place of the new hero is not the city it is the village. They look at the city as something more feminine, the new hero hates the life in the city because he envy to that kind of life. He is raised with traditional sentence; ‘’do not be women with the meaning to not be coward’’. They are an odd group, heavily armed with automatic weapons and yet dressed in a motley collection of clothes. They are raised to be violent. Violence is presented everywhere in the film, starting from the begging when the children are playing with the fire and after that when the small boy is having a gun in his hands. Because this is the ‘primitive’’ Balkan where ‘’blood call for blood’’ and where the main philosophy of life is ‘eye for eye‘.

The behavior of the both ethnic groups toward women is the same, for them women are the other, the other which is different from them, the other which are less appreciable, less powerful. We can see that from one sentence in the film, the scene of a birth of the lamb, when the veterinary doctor said;’’ it is not important what it is going to be, it important to be male”. Hegemonic masculinity in Balkan is a culturally normative ideal of male behavior. Hegemonic masculinity is marked by a tendency for the male to dominate other males and subordinate female, here in both ethnic groups is something which is due to patriarchy, traditionalism, stereotypes and it is the normative ideal of masculinity to which men are supposed to aim. Hegemonic masculinity presented in the film is necessarily the most and the only one prevalent masculinity in the two different cultures shown in the film within the period of ’90. Characteristics associated with the hegemonic masculinity of both ethnic groups are aggressive, power men, dominant over women it is defined by physical strength and bravado, exclusive heterosexuality, suppression of "vulnerable" emotions such as remorse and uncertainty, economic independence, authority over women and other men, and intense interest in sexual "conquest". In that time in Macedonia simply said most men and women support a hegemonic masculinity. Simply it was a process according to me which keep the dominant groups in power by ensuring that subordinate groups support or at least accept "the way things are". 

Women are civilized to be less violence. They are those who are used to accepted the other, the different from their own , first they accept the other in itself (pregnancy) and then in social context they are more prone to incorporate the other. While men exclude the other, negation the origin of the others and that is a requirement for a national purity (on both sides) and sexual purity as well.  In Nationalism there is a figure of identification , mainly that is the father figure, for male identification with the father figure it means exclusion of the other and identification with the same (with male), and for women it means identification with the other gender, with male , and that is the paradox. Nationalism for women means not exclusion of the other gender but coexist with them, which mean mix and inclusion as we can see from the movie and that means less loyalty of women to their own nation. Because of her infidelity toward her nation Zamira is frightened (she is aware of all that) and she is hunted by her own people. In the same time she met Kiril the young monk who has given a vow of silence. The different language they talk and his vow of silence are not barrier for their love.

Femininity in Balkan counties taking here the example of Macedonia is constructed around adaptation to male power. Its central feature is attractiveness to men, which includes physical appearance, suppression of "power" emotions such as anger, opposing men , but emotions such  as nurturance and taking care of children, obedience, sexual availability without sexual assertiveness, and sociability ("Men like women who smile."). One could say that masculinity and femininity are societal euphemisms for male dominance and female subordination. However, hegemonic masculinity and subordinate femininity are not conspiracies. Rather, they are the result of widely accepted ways of thinking in both ethnic groups (Macedonians and Albanians, taking into consideration that the film show the life in high mountain village) that define male dominance as fair, reasonable, and in the best interests of society and female subordination as a normal, the only way of living. 

Adult super ordination is shown here but parents and other older members of the family constrain their children merely by enculturating them, many of the older members of families who belong to the religions or cultures that do not respect autonomy of the groups would and do very strongly resist their children‘s being exposed to any religious or cultural views but their own. Zamira is a representative of a new, young generation of women who do not accept the thing they are and do not take the things for granted. Her family and her ethnic group expect from her to respect the culture and tradition, to be obedient, to be subordinated to the men from her nation. When her grandfather catch her with him who is from the other, he hit her, and said I never hit you, I locked you, I cut off your hair but I never hit you, and he called her with insultive words. Her culture and tradition could not accept that love. She tried to explain that he loves her and she loves him and that love is above the ethnicity and religion. Here we can see the adult super ordination over children and in one scene of the film later, where Zamira’s brother refuse to kiss a hand to Aleksandar (Macedonian man) and simply said ; ‘’why should I do that he is not from ours’’, but under the pressure of his grandfather he will do that.  

In the name of culture and tradition her brother killed her. Who’s that culture and what kind of culture is that? Imagine a culture where a man would rather kill his sister or a daughter than allow her to love a man from another culture. The excuse for the murder is found in the culture, in simple sentence ‘’my culture made me do it’’.  Culture is a way of live, a set of diverse and often conflicting narratives whereby communal (mis) understanding, roles and responsibilities are negotiated. Home is the place where after all much of culture is practiced, preserved, and transmitted to the young’s. But it seems that she as non-co-opted young women did not learn anything from the older, from her mother. Her mother is Hana another main female character in the film, she is a widow, she in the past was in love with the man male character in the movie, Aleksandar the photographer, they were not able to realize their love. Hana is representative of older generation of Albanian women who are co-opted into reinforcing the patriarchy, the traditionalism in the families, because they had ‘’freely chosen’’ to live their life in such a way. 

In some societies women are treated as inferior when they are young and unmarried but are revered and enjoy superiority over men when they rich certain age, become grandmother, at different stage of their life they are perceived differently and endowed with different rights, but it is not the case in this ethnic group where they remain subordinated. An older woman gets relatively high status with the group, and they even help to reproduce cultural constraints toward younger generations of women in families, which is not the case here. In this case they are trying to the changes but secretly because they are aware of the anger of their own men and its escalation.Women are shown here as objects of men’s sexual desire as we can see form a scene where Aleksandar is dreaming about Hana. He is still dreaming of her and here we can see the depiction of women as sexual object of others desire. And while one night he (Aleksandar) is dreaming that Hana is coming in his room which is disappointing because is unthinkable,  one night that is really happening but of course she is not coming like his lover but to look for help from him. Her daughter disappears, and she asks for help; she said like she is your child. With these words she revoke on the past, on the times when things were different, when the ethnic line does not exist, in this way she takes him in a union, which for him will be deathfull, which for him means end, because if he help her that means the he must trait his people, his nation, and all that because of a love of a woman. Love here is depictioned as a weakness, and he is a traitor of his nation, because he decided to help to Albanian woman. 

His cousins cannot accept that he is looking for her still after 16 years : Why do you need her, she is Albanian (Shiptarka) you have our women. They will overflew us- this is the thinking of his relatives in the village. The fear of the domination of one nation above other is representing here. The fear of losing the power and dominance is the factor which leads toward armament, towards protecting of its nation, not only with arms, but with ethnic non-mixture, with keeping the ethnic lines clearly visible and not crossing the lines.The idea of ethnic and national purity of both ethnic groups is highly present and visible in the film as well as sexual purity and resistance of sexual intercourse with others who do not belong to ours because only sexual purity leads towards pure ethnicity and pure nation. 

The influence of the new comer (Aleksandar) who came after 16 years of absence is very low, he cannot change the mind, the beliefs, and the culture of the people who are looking for revenge. They are so occupied with the ‘blood of the other’ which must be shed because that’s the only way of making their power visible not for themselves but for their Nation generally. They both are all acting in the name of the Nation and in the name of their identity as an ethnic group and signs of the differences are strongly marked. 


Macedonian audience in this film saw Macedonia, the new Republic of Macedonia, the new national identity which was in the phase of making. The film helped the young republic to be internationally recognized, helped forming a Macedonian national identity. The film show a moment of collective construction of a new independent nation, but on the other hand it should be emphasized that making of the national identity does not necessarily overlap the making of an ethnic identity. Both different ethnic identities with their own symbols were constructed inside the new Macedonian state, Macedonian and Albanian identity. It was obviously that the construction of the national and ethnic identity could not be carried out without more or less violent confrontation, that there exist no neutral position outside the conflict from which one could objectively and rationally solve it. The subject of oppression within the group is often justified in the name of preservation of culture or religious toleration. Confrontation and conflicts starts because the diversity was ignored and assimilated into dominant group or into the identity of majority. Everyone has to be recognized according to its identity. Stereotypical views of the other should be broken, and multiculturalism should be given a chance. 

Attention should be paid to the status of women within the nation, culture or religion, they should not be limited in their ability to make choices and not to be considered as a less powerful groups, especially seriously should be taken the perspective of young women. We ought to recognize that cultures are permanently changing and developing , and that there is no reason to ‘’freeze” a culture in order to preserve it. We should trust the ability of individuals to withstand change and reform their tradition and lifestyle without surrendering completely their particular identity. We must entrust the faith of the community to its individual members. We ought then to empower individuals by granting them individual rights. In so doing we may protect  the rights of the less powerful and less conservative members of the each groups to live their lives and preserve their identity the way they see fit.


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