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The Milky Way (Halav)

A cash-strapped mother gets a job in a factory breast-pumping human milk for rich clients - from the Critics' Picks Section of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


Singer-songwriter Tala (Hila Ruach) loves performing and writing, but can’t seem to make any money at it. And she needs money, having recently given birth to Sheleg (whose name means Snow), so gets herself a day job at Milky Way. It’s a company that employs mothers to pump their milk into containers so that rich mothers can buy the best quality milk – at a premium price. Each employee is given their own individual cubicle, and the women communicate with each other through and over the partition walls. It’s basically a milking factory for human women.

Tala quickly gets into trouble with the company authorities via an argument with a staff member when Tala lies down with her baby in an area filled with balls – supposedly for children only, not adults – as it is the only thing that will stop him crying. More seriously, she gets suspended for four days for smoking half a cigarette on the grounds that it will adversely affect the quality of the milk for the company’s customers.

Wondering what to do with the rest of her day, she gets a lift with a company milkman (Evgeny Moliboga), accompanying him on his round since he will eventually go near his home. She’s fascinated by what sort of women would buy milk from the company, and sneaks into one upmarket house to check out the clientele, hiding in the lavatory to observe young mum Nili (Hadas Yaron) caring for her baby Lavi and taking a birthday phone call from husband Eitan. She has difficulties getting out of the house without being seen, and the delay means her driver has to leave without her. When she eventually gets outside, she discovers to her horror that she’s lost her mobile phone. She must have dropped it in the lavatory cubicle.

So she pretends to be a Happy Birthday sing-o-gram for Nili from Eitan, which enables her to use the bathroom and retrieve her phone, but lands her in trouble because while she’s in there, Nili phones Eitan to check she’s genuine, discovers she’s not and assumes she must have taken something from the place, so calls the cops. Tala is incarcerated for several hours, and her mum (Orly Roth Feldheim) – who is babysitting Sheleg – is less than pleased. Nevertheless, Tala later gets a phone call from Nili asking if Tala would be prepared to sell her milk direct. Following a row with her mum, Tala moves out and, on a short term basis, into Nili’s home. For a while that work out well, but then Eitan raises objections…

The film constitutes a really strange mixture of elements. The milking company, which is convincingly art directed and realised, could almost be science fiction, comparable to a subplot in a David Cronenberg movie, albeit with a distinctly feminist spin. The scene where Tala sneaks into Nili’s house and then has to improvise to retrieve her home works extremely well as broad farce and is arguably the film’s strongest suit Yet it also feels like a watered-down scene from a Hitchcock thriller as she hides in another’s house trying not to be seen, on which level it could which could have been shot and directed far more effectively. Elsewhere, the shots and representation of breasts feeding and pumping – all inserted or integrated quite naturally into the wider whole – are a statement of pure, pro-motherhood feminism: women have breasts, they’re there to feed babies, and why not show and celebrate the fact on the screen? Another of the film’s more successful elements.

Mostly very commendable, except that the whole thing could have been far more focused had it concentrated on just one of those elements rather than taking in all of them in a scattershot approach. Still, even if it’s a bit hit-and-miss, there remains much to like here.

The Milky Way just premiered at the Critics’ Picks Section of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

By Jeremy Clarke - 14-11-2023

Jeremy Clarke has been writing about movies in various UK print publications since the late 1980s as well as online in recent years. He’s excited by movies which provoke audiences, upset convent...

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