Before the Rain is a beautiful film. The detail in so many scenes brings its beguiling Macedonian landscapes to life in a way that could scarcely be improved without seeing them first-hand. Indeed, my strongest feeling after watching was not about its story, but that I really must visit the country some time.
The tale itself is a worthwhile one on cycles of distrust and violence and how they can flare up suddenly in even the most peacefully remote or bustlingly “civilised” places. A recurring observation inelegantly presented is “Time never dies. The circle is not round”. I find this a needlessly obtuse and unnecessary addition that seems incongruous since the narrative is otherwise presented in a way that speaks for itself. In one of the opening sequences, children play together. Their game would be a harmless one of simulated conflict were it not for the fact that it involves fire, some probably pilfered bullets and animal torture. It’s reminiscent of a similar scene in The Wild Bunch, although Before the Rain deals with its subject matter more seriously and completely.
Beyond the beautifully-shot countryside there’s also a lot of detail in how the plot and characters fit together. The film’s narrative is itself deliberately circular. It is told in three parts, Words, Faces and Pictures. These are sequentially numbered but are presented to us out of temporal order. Repeat viewing reveals there to be no such possible order, although, for those who want to piece together the sequence of events, it is almost possible to overlay them in such a way that the scenes logically follow each other. Each section is essentially told from beginning to end, while leaving out events occurring elsewhere or shown from a different perspective. The “earliest” events occur at the beginning of Faces. But for a few photographs existing before they possibly could in this section I think it would be possible to overlay all three parts in a coherent timeline so that if mixed up and shown in sequence there would be no circularity. This would be missing the point that perhaps the people and places don’t so much matter as the circularity and similarity to other conflicts.
If it isn’t obvious, Before the Rain is a film that will at least give you something to think about from a structural point of view. Its characters can be polite and peaceful in one scene but (seemingly) completely different in another. What I see as its core message is a simple one, well-told: that we’re all capable of almost anything. Conflict of some sort is practically inevitable in our lives even if we drift along and try to avoid or ignore it. Whether you go with the flow or try and resist or resolve it you’re not guaranteed a “good” result. Personally, I’d prefer to try: publish and be damned.