Review: The Milky Way
- Maya Kenig examines motherhood, capitalism and social differences using a dystopian take on the concept of the human milk bank as the starting point
Monetising something related to our body is a taboo and always has been. Different “products” sold incur different judgements: cutting hair and selling it is not such a bad thing, but selling “extra” organs is. However, breast milk was always exempt from such rules for practical reasons: wet nurses have saved millions, if not billions, of lives throughout history. The concept was upgraded to human milk banks in the first half of the 20th century, but with the rise in baby formula in the second half of the century, they became somewhat obsolete and their popularity waned.
Now, Israeli filmmaker Maya Kenig takes the concept and gives it a slightly hipster-dystopian twist in her sophomore feature, The Milky Way, which has just premiered at Tallinn Black Nights, in the Critics’ Picks section.
Tala (Hila Ruach) is a single mother and a musician who never attained any significant success. Unable to support herself in any other way, she applies for a job donating her breast milk to the titular company. While she is working, pumping her own milk for rich clients to use, she must rely on the help of the company’s daycare system, led by a judgemental caregiver, or on her own mother’s (Orli Roth Feldheim) assistance, which also comes at the price of having judgement passed on her. When she breaks the company’s strict rules, and gets caught and suspended, she enlists the help of a delivery truck driver (Evgeny Moliboga) to satisfy her curiosity and see where the milk goes.
Realising that her own milk is being sold to a single, very peculiar buyer, she decides to take a look around the person’s house. After a series of mishaps and attempts to get out of trouble, only to get herself into even more problems, she meets Nili (Hadas Yaron), who has an indecent proposal for her. The offer comes with great benefits that could allow Tala to clear her debts and even try to pursue her singing career, but it also entails unclear and ever-changing rules of engagement coming from the bossy and moody Nili…
Although Kenig basically just takes a familiar concept and puts a cold, absurdist and dystopian twist (which seems lifted from Yorgos Lanthimos’s films) on it, she knows how to play with it in order to achieve what she wants in the first place. In this case, it is an examination of motherhood, capitalism and the ever-growing social differences between the “haves” and the “have-nots”, always putting our protagonist on the losing end. The danger of taking the premise in the “misery porn” direction is averted by the director’s choice to deal with such serious topics in a light-hearted way. To do so, she can rely on her main actress, Hila Ruach, whose energetic performance and instant chemistry with the rest of the cast prove to be essential for setting and maintaining the tone of the film.
The aesthetic and craft choices also prove to be sound judgements on the part of Kenig, who, along with writing and directing the movie, also serves as its editor. Kenig opts for a breezy, indie aesthetic powered by the contrasts between the spaces that our characters (coming from different social strata) occupy, and for lively pacing, where the synth music by Tom Armony, Assa Raviv and the lead actress herself gently manipulates and massages the viewer’s mood. The Milky Way hits the right spot as a blend of a serious topic and a gentle touch – something that is increasingly rare at film festivals today.
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