God Exists, Her Name Is Petrunya

***

Reviewed by: Georgiana Musat

God Exists, Her Name Is Petrunya
"The transformation...shows newcomer Zorica Nusheva as a spectacular presence."

God Exists And Her Name Is Petrunya’s opening shot is a camera look-zoom facing protagonist Petrunya (Zorica Nusheva), thus breaking the fourth wall. She’s standing still, with her feet touching a straight line, in a drained pool - an indicator of how she’s, externally, trying to conform. On the other hand, there’s the music, an aggressive rock paradoxically speaking of her need to transgress. Teona Strugar Mitevska’s Macedonian hyperbolic feminist drama, winner of the Ecumenical Jury prize at Berlinale, follows the true story of a woman who, in 2014, disrupted a masculine ritual.

Every year, on Epiphany Day, several Balkan countries still follow a somewhat barbaric Christian ritual, where the brave men of the village venture into icy waters in search of a cross thrown in by the local priest. The fortunate bearer will not only receive social and televisual recognition, but he will get a whole year of luck. Petrunya catching this cross seems like a parody to her parents and peers - she’s shy yet obstinate, her only defiant gesture staying naked in front of her nagging mother, who finds her curves repulsive. Nothing about Petrunya seems to align itself with the courage of crossing icy waters - when she plunges, oddly enough holding a mannequin, she seems to do it as a spontaneous act to finally subvert expectations. No wonder she does it in front of all the men who mock her on the streets.

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Petrunya’s gesture dismays the otherwise dusty rural patriarchy. No feminist ever dared to make such a hubbub in the region, especially by taking over male traditions, so this is plenty of reason for their savage instincts to re-emerge. What follows is an aggrandised masquerade, a police station drama, where men, huddled up yet still half-nude, heated up by desire, wait for retribution outside the building; inside, in a claustrophobic jungle-like environment (there’s a peculiar wall painted with trees and leaves), Petrunya is pressured by officials and clergymen to give them the cross. Even the tireless female journalist, the only woman who seems to stand up for Petrunya, is doing it for the sake of having a particular story to tell, not from feminist solidarity. Of course, the transformation, happening over the course of the night, with Petrunya growing in power as possessing the cross means she’s finally in charge for once, shows newcomer Zorica Nusheva as a spectacular presence.

There’s an evident allusion to the bearing of the Christian cross in her persistent meanderings - a reference resumed in the film’s subversive title - the burden of being a woman in her 30s, in the Balkans, overweight, unemployed and without a husband, which is, traditionally speaking, the deadly-sin triad for a woman. Having this puissant feminist empowering tale on hand, Mitevska’s tone is rather disappointingly bleak - everyone surrounding Petrunya is a malevolent caricature. There’s also a very thin, implausible love sequence between her and a police officer, but this is a plot point the story never returns to. Petrunya’s small triumph causes too much bruising, politically and religiously - spending a whole night in a police station, waiting for charges for a symbol seems a bit too Kafkaesque, too unreasonable, even considering how misogynistic and easily bruising rural male patriarchy can be.

Reviewed on: 19 Jun 2021
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A Macedonian woman throws herself into a traditionally men-only ceremony, kicking up a ruckus and standing her ground.

Director: Teona Strugar Mitevska

Writer: Teona Strugar Mitevska, Elma Tataragic

Starring: Zorica Nusheva, Labina Mitevska, Stefan Vujisic, Suad Begovski

Year: 2019

Runtime: 100 minutes

Country: Republic of Macedonia, Belgium, France, Croatia, Slovenia

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