I was thoroughly charmed by this quirky Macedonian tale of courage and self determination by Teona Strugar Mitevska.
Petrunija (Zorica Nusheva) is 32 and can’t get a job with her seemingly useless history degree. Her mother nags her, setting up interviews for jobs she never gets because she’s not ‘thin or pretty enough’. On the way home from another failed attempt, where the creepy boss is smugly creative in the ways he psychologically and physically assault her, Petrunija happens upon an annual village ceremony; local men vie to be the first to retrieve a cross thrown into the river. Without thinking, Petrunija leaps in and finds it, only to have victory torn from her hands as the outraged men dismiss her outright.
The priest intercedes and in the chaos, Petrunija flees with the cross. And so begins a ‘farcical if it weren’t so real’ drama as the police, the priest, the thuggish men who feel cheated and even her mother try to convince her to return the cross and admit she was wrong to take it. Petrunija, though, has a certainty in her rightness and holds firm, as if the coercion works to slowly increase her strength of will rather than undermine it.
The archetypal secondary characters are interesting and could be seen, on a deeper level, to represent the factions opposed to women having equal choice and control. Bullish police, the church too worried about reputation and with no real strength, her mother, a previous generation who has internalised misogyny. The character who you feel may be Petrunija’s best advocate is journalist Slavika (Labina Mitevska). There to cover what is a trivial religious event, she is the only one who understands that Petrunija’s actions have the potential to be an important catalyst. “We are eternally stuck in the grim dark ages”, she says. It is a catalyst, but not in the way Slavika thinks.
The cinematography is artful, using gorgeous composition to make Petrunija the unequivocal strength and focus of the frame. Nusheva is thoroughly convincing as a woman who has been buffeted for too long by other people’s ideas of who she is. You watch her quiet metamorphosis into a creature of clear-eyed determination, from sheep to wolf.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.