BERLIN: Macedonian director Teona Strugar Mitevska has put his country on the European film map with Macedonia / Belgium / Slovenia / Croatia / France coproduction God Exists, Her Name Is Petrunya which has scored a slot in the main competition at this year’s Berlinale. Mitevska is not newcomer. This is her fifth feature and her previous outing When the Day Had No Name premiered in the Panorama two years ago so she is no stranger to Berlinale either. But this is her most focused and successful film to date and the main competition slot is well deserved.
Petrunya played outstandingly by Zorica Nusheva is 31 and jobless. She has studied history but no one is interested in giving her a job with her qualifications so she lives at home with mother Vaska played by Violeta Shapkovska and her father and Stojan played by Petar Mircevski on the outskirts of the Macedonian town of Štip. Her overbearing mother does not help Petrunya to develop a positive self-image, constantly telling her daughter she is fat and unemployable. . Petrunya decides to go for a job interview at a factory. Putting on a floral dress and looking clearly unemployable she suffers through a humiliating job interview with the factory owner who refuses to take her seriously.
On her way home she passes an Epiphany ceremony. Every year, the young men of the city dive for the holy cross that the priest has thrown into the icy river. This time, Petrunya decides on a whim to join them. She is quicker than everyone else and dives into the icy waters and comes up holding the trophy for the TV cameras to see. She is attacked by the surrounding crowds who scream at her that a woman is now allowed to take part.
She becomes a sudden media sensation when the cynical reporter Slavica Janeva played by Labina Mitevska who is also the director’s sister in real life exploits the story even convincing Petrunya’s own mother to denounce her for taking the cross. But the more Petrunya is attacked the more convinced she becomes not to give up the cross.
This rapidly becomes a story about a woman taking control of her life in a patriarchal society not just about a woman who jumped into an icy river and came out ahead of her male competitors.
The screenplay by Elma Tataragic and Teona Strugar Mitevska tells the story effectively and with insights into a woman’s position into society without ever taking things too seriously. The story is full of satire and irony despite its message of a woman taking control of her life. Macedonia is a society in transition and the director questions whether the democratic changes that have taken place have really gone far enough. The representatives of the church, the judiciary and the media all come in for scathing commentary. The place of women in society is questioned and both the scriptwriters and the director clearly sympathise with their main character. The story is approached with just the right mix of irony and seriousness and leaves the viewer with a feel-good ending that is sure to make it popular with European audiences.
God Exists, Her Name is Petrunija / Gospod postoi, imeto i' e Petrunija (Macedonia, Belgium, Slovenia, Croatia, France)Directed by Teona Strugar Mitevska
Produced by Sisters and Brother Mitevski Production https://www.sistersandbrothermitevski.com/ Coproduced by Entre Chien et Loup, Vertigo www.vertigo.si , Spiritus Movens www.spiritus-movens.hr , Deuxième Ligne Films Supported by the Macedonian Film Agency www.filmfund.gov.mk , the Belgium Film and Tax Shelter, the Slovenian Film Center www.film-center.si , the Croatian Audiovisual Centre www.havc.hr and Eurimages https://www.coe.int/en/web/eurimages/Cast: Zorica Nusheva, Labina Mitevska, Simeon Moni Damevski, Suad Begovski, Violeta Shapkovska