Neither as explicit as Grbavica nor as veiled as The Secret Life of Words—two other dramas concerning the long-term aftermath of the war in the Balkans from a coping female survivor’s point of view—Swiss filmmaker Andrea Staka’s first narrative feature (written in collaboration with directors Barbara Albert and Marie Kreutzer) is excruciatingly conscious of its characters’ emotional scars, but without feeling pressured to explain their historical significance. Living in Zurich for so long that she can’t be bothered to refer to her homeland as anything other than Yugoslavia, middle-aged sourpuss Ruza (Mirjana Karanovic) runs her canteen as stingily as her own dejected life. “If there’s one thing you’re good at, it’s counting,” calls out her newest employee, Ana (Marija Skaricic), a gorgeous young Bosnian wanderer who aggressively pursues pleasure to overcompensate for her war-torn past and a pressing health issue. (Thankfully, her nosebleeds are revealed with purposeful inevitability, not as some trite, heart-string-pulling gotcha.) The story of a free-spirited stranger warming the hardened heart of someone older and colder may be worn out—and the third former Yugoslav woman in the mix, Ruza’s repressed employee Mila (Ljubica Jovic), isn’t allowed enough development—but Staka confidently breathes joie de vivre into the film’s green-gray bleakness. Stylized with a recurring misty focus, the film’s economically captured detail shots (gestures, expressions, caught moments) convey genuine sensitivity without the expected weepiness.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 17, 2008