Melk (2023) Venice Film Festival 2023

August 31st, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir/Wri: Stefanie Kolk | Netherlands 93’

After her baby is stillborn Robin makes an altruistic decision in this sombre and affecting feature debut from Dutch filmmaker Stefanie Kolk.

Nine months of pregnancy, and then a traumatic birth with nothing to show for it is a tragedy for any mother. And when Robin (Frieda Barnhard) learns her baby has died, everyone in the family is affected not least her partner (Wimie Wilhelm). The two go through plenty of soul-searching finally coming to the conclusion that the nourishing milk that Robin is already producing should not be wasted but go to a good cause.

But their doctor has disappointing news. She advises the couple against their decision to donate breast milk, not wishing to put a further burden on Robin’s grief-stricken body: Lactating into a bottle is a big commitment. But Robin feels it will actually empower her to deal with the mourning process by injecting a note of joy and positivity into an otherwise pretty grim scenario. And the milk donation project gives her something upbeat to talk about with her friends. It’s not all doom and gloom thanks to Robin’s pragmatic nature and she must avoid being defined by her loss and find a way to put a positive spin on her life. She is a survivor and a strong one at that supporting her partner through his grief. But then comes another layer to the storyline that adds an enigmatic twist of lowkey dramatic tension to an already fraught situation. 

Melk is sensitive but never sentimental and made all the more enjoyable by Emo Weemhoff’s stylishly framed images and some convincing performances all round, particularly from leads Barnhard and Wilhelm. Alexander Reumers’ minimalist score leaves us with space and tranquility to reflect on the gravity of a scenario that gently lifts the lid on an inevitable fact of life that also offers a message of hope. MT


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