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What begins as a sprightly, shrewd, visually striking satire from Macedonian director Teona Strugar Mitevska deflates in its second act into something unconvincing, sophomoric and dramatically redundant. It simply runs out of ideas. A shame – because there was an interesting idea there, inspired by a true story with the makings of a good performance from Zorica Nusheva in the lead role. Sadly, she is given little in the way of script or direction to develop the role.
Nusheva plays Petrunya, a woman in her 30s, still humiliatingly living at home with her mum and dad in the eastern Macedonian town of Štip – unemployed despite a good college degree in history. Her preferred subject is the Chinese revolution, not – as a law officer later pointedly asks – Alexander the Great, that patriotic hero. After yet another failed job interview, during which a creepy manager did nothing more than make sexual advances before announcing he found her neither attractive nor suitable for employment, Petrunya trudges home to find herself in the middle of a crowd of young men about to participate a traditional Macedonian religious custom to celebrate the Orthodox Epiphany. They are preparing to jump into the river, competing to see who can retrieve the cross thrown into it by the priest.
In a mood of pure desperate boredom, Petrunya jumps in too – and catches the cross, to the fury of the aggressive young guys for whom this is a male privilege. Yet the men-only aspect appears to be a convention set by precedent, not an actual written rule, and the priest himself is at first dismayed at the male losers’ boorish rage. As for Petrunya, she escapes with the cross, and becomes a local scandal, with police and church authorities arguing among themselves about whether an actual crime has been committed and an ambitious TV news journalist preparing to frame the incident into a career-making story about sex discrimination issue and the state of the nation.
Well, is it a sex discrimination issue? Is there any point for non-believers in affirming Petrunya’s right to compete on this quaint (or, to put it another way, aggressive and irrational) ceremony? What is the status of the “stolen” cross? And what is Petrunya’s attitude to Macedonian religion and society? None of these questions are really asked or answered in the ensuing sluggish, uncertain drama, which sees Petrunya being frogmarched to the police station, and interrogated about whether she is prepared to surrender the cross – despite the fact that she has been required to bring it with her. Then the male losers show up outside and appear to create an Assault on Precinct 13 situation, although the exact dramatic jeopardy caused by this is also not convincingly depicted. Similarly implausible and unsatisfying is the hint of a love affair between Petrunya and a sympathetic young cop.
The story just dribbles out. Harder work was needed at the script development stage.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: God Exists, Her Name Is Petrunya review – asks big questions, doesn’t answer them | Film