Before the Rain (Milcho Manchevski, 1994) speaks to the cyclical nature of violence and conflict by way of its unique narrative style. By structuring itself so that each of its parts leads directly into the next one, the film argues that actions such as the ones depicted lead into nothing but more violence and that they are inherently pointless because of this. Centering itself on a conflict in the Macedonian mountains, the film follows a trio of love stories that are all affected by senseless violence in one way or another. At the core of the inciting violent conflict is Zamira (Labina Mitevska), a young Albanian girl whom may or may not have killed a Macedon man named Bojan (Ilko Stefanovski). This perceived act of violence on her part is taken out of proportion by the late Bojan’s friends and family to the point that they are hunting her with the intent of brutally killing her. Here the film begins, though it is illustrated that there is not a true beginning to the actions that Before the Rain shows the audience. Though the film is self-contained in its own narrative, it highlights that what it is showing is far more expansive and endless than it can illustrate. Before the Rain is cyclical in nature, and the actions that it displays are argued to be endless and far more expansive than the film’s narrative itself because of this.
Whether or not Zamira actually did anything is both irrelevant and crucial to the argument of the film. In the case of Zamira possibly being completely innocent, the film highlights the boiling tensions and the senseless and explosive nature of them when it comes to violence. Zamira is ruthlessly hunted because she may have done something, but more importantly, because she is Albanian and the man that she is accused of killing is not. The hunt of her leads to more violence, as those which pursue her are willing to even turn on the priests of their own religion, whom they still revere and respect, if it means that they will find her. But, more important that the hunt of Zamira is the fact that she is not killed by those who hunt her. Instead, at the conclusion of the first part of the film, Zamira is gunned down by her own brother as she is brutally chastised and essentially assaulted by her own grandfather. In the end, Zamira dies because she dared to step outside of her narrow place in the world. Her own family is proven to be just as hateful and fearful as those who hunt her, and in the end they are almost indistinguishable. The climate of fear and hate that Before the Rain centers on turns most of those within it into humans who betray their own nature at the slightest hint of an affront to them. Zamira is simply a spark that ignites the volatile tensions that surround her, and in the end her transgression may not have even occurred.
On the flip side, if Zamira did actually kill Bojan, then this action is lacking in any and all explanation, but this is the intention of the film and not a fault of it. Bojan dies from being stabbed by a pitchfork, a wound that seems odd if someone were simply trying to senselessly kill him. As is shown numerous times throughout the film, everyone in the small town where Zamira resides has some sort of access to guns. Zamira’s own brother, Alija (Vladimir Jacev), is shown to have one, which he kills his own sister with. In addition to this, the Albanians are shown to be looked down upon by their neighbors, and though there are Albanians that wish to lash out violently as well, the actions of hate are mostly centered to one side. Through all of this, Bojan’s wounds seem to be inflicted by someone whom was acting defensively, or at the very least did not seek out Bojan with the intention of killing him. This is not to say that Bojan necessarily deserved his fate, but it is implied that he brought about his own death upon himself. Regardless, this act of violence does nothing but incite even more violence, as is the thesis of the film as a whole.
The endless nature of violence is the subject that the film focuses upon the most. In the first sequence, Words, Zamira is shown fleeing to the cathedral where she will hide from her pursuers and meet the young priest Kiril (Grégoire Colin). Also in this sequence is the funeral of Bojan and war photographer Aleksander (Rade Serbedzija). The sequence concludes with the death of Zamira and then the film moves to London and its second part: Faces. In faces, the audience is formally introduced to Aleksander and his lover Anne (Karin Cartlidge), whom is a photo editor. On Anne’s desk the audience is shown photographs of the death of Zamira. Following this sequence of the film, which includes a senseless and possibly racially-motivated shooting rampage at a restaurant, the film moves to its final sequence, Pictures, as it follows Aleksander on his return to his homeland. This sort of self-imposed exile by Aleksander finds him discovering that his homeland has become a place of hate and violence. He disarms a youth who threatens him when he first arrives at his hometown and later he must take away the same gun from a small child whom has found it. But though he may seek to diffuse the situation that is brewing, Aleksander ultimately cannot stop the inevitable cycle. Realizing that his neighbors intend to kill Zamira for something she may or may not have done, Aleksander attempts to rescue her only to be shot himself. Zamira flees, and the film concludes as she approaches the cathedral once again.
Before the Rain offers little in terms of hope or a positive sentiment on the state of things. The actions that the characters perform and the events that befall them are seen as nothing more than inevitable, and they cannot do anything to change this. In addition to this, the actions and events that surround them will never end, and nothing can change this as well as long as violence continues to exist. The inciting incident of the circle of events in the film is the death of Bojan, and no one even knows why he was killed. Nothing can stop the events that follow, not the actions of the anti-violence photographer Aleksander, not the good intentions of the priest Kiril, and not the fact that Zamira ultimately falls into the hands of her own family and not her original pursuers. And though the events in London can seem somewhat detached from the other two sequences, they still speak to the endless nature of violence and its equally endless reach. The actions in the London restaurant which take the life of several, including Anne’s husband Nick (Jay Villiers), are senseless and never fully explained, just as the other acts of violence in the film are. No one is immune from violence and its reach, and Before the Rain does not offer any hope that these events will do anything but continually feed into each other. “Time never dies, and the circle is not round,” states the film, and the cycles it creates illustrate as much.