You Carry Me

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

You Carry Me
"Its female-centered narrative hints at a new, rapidly crystallising modern identity which constitutes a conscious and eager shift away from old divisions."

It's rare for a debut feature to become its home country's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination, but You Carry Me has attracted a lot of attention in Montenegro and in neighbouring Croatia, whose language it uses. Widely seen as a breakthrough in the cinema of the region, it's a highly ambitious film which, though it explores traditional cultural values, is firmly rooted in modernity. Its female-centered narrative hints at a new, rapidly crystallising modern identity which constitutes a conscious and eager shift away from old divisions.

Female-centred films are often accused of playing like soap opera - an easy line with which to trivialise certain types of life experience - but Ivona Juka has anticipated this nicely by setting her stories around a soap, Prisoners Of Happiness, exploring the lives of various members of the team behind it. Soaps are just about the most demanding form of broadcast entertainment to be involved with, in that they demand daily attention on an unrelenting basis, and in this regard they parallel some of the issues the women are facing in their private lives: childcare, broken romantic relationships, looking after a senile parent and facing terminal illness.

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The film is divided into three sections, each focused on a particular set of characters, though it gradually becomes clear that they re happening at the same time. make-up artist Lidija (Nataša Janji?) is sidelined at home just as she is at work, with her petty criminal partner Vedran (played to charismatic perfection by Goran Hajdukovi?, himself once a member of a notorious football ultras gang) at the centre of her kids' world and older daughter Dora (standout Helena Beljan) apparently keen to imitate him. Dora's comfortably assumed masculinity sits at odds with Lidija's attempts to assert traditionally feminine needs - for meaningful support for the family, and for committed romantic attention - without surrendering her agency.

Meanwhile, director Ives (Lana Bari?) has surrendered just about everything in order to care for her father (tenderly portrayed by veteran Vojislav Brajovi?), whose dementia has rendered him unable to cope wit trivial things and prone to get into danger, and the pressure on her is leading her to crack up at work. Finally, producer Natasa (Nataša Dor?i?) is carrying a painful secret and trying to cope with a marriage that is falling apart. An on-set affair blurs the lines between the soap opera world and reality, exposing the tropes through which people understand their lives and the gaps between expectations and reality.

Of these segments, the first is by far the strongest, though the last packs a punch at the end. The film grows gradually more confused over the length of its running time, suggesting Juka has bitten off more than she can true - but in the context of a regional cinema which generally plays it safe, that is perhaps commendable. It may focus on the familiar but this is by no means a safe film. It's a showcase for some fine actors and it suggests a potent directorial talent in the making. Juka seems destined to be something special.

Reviewed on: 24 Feb 2016
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A mosaic of stories whose common denominator is the fight for survival, forgiveness, and new opportunities.

Festivals:

Karlovy 2015

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