Directed by Andrea Staka
starring Mirjana Karanovic and Marija Skaricic
Switzerland isn’t just stunning mountains, fresh powder, and banking. Crummy industrial areas lurk behind the chocolates and tourist posters, and that’s where Ruza (Mirjana Karanovic) just gets by running her small canteen. She fled Belgrade back when it was still calm and communist, but her boyfriend forgot to come along and she never moved on. Free-spirited Ana (Marija Skaricic) punctures her microscopic world when she shows up one day, goes to work, and refuses pay. Ana survived the siege of Kosovo, but can’t flee her own impending mortality. Instead, she bounces from one lover to another and sleeps in the disco when no one will take her home. Money is never an issue; she always has a few shekels in her purse. The two form a close friendship, and while Ruza is wound pretty tight, Ana gets her to open up and “experience life.” In Ruza’s small world, that amounts to drinking an occasional glass of wine, taking the cable car to the Matterhorn, and finally succumbing to the advances of one of her customers.
While this little art film lacks spectacle, it’s full of heart. Very little happens, yet Fraulein exploits our voyeuristic fascination as we explore the lives of these two women. We touch on more than the stock chick flick issues here — it’s life and death and the hypocrisy of love that occupy the film. No one cares if “he’ll call tomorrow,” bigger things are at stake. Self-imposed exile from home underlies this story, and while both women deny any longing for Bosnia, they never really make Switzerland anything more than a waiting room for something better. Andrea Staka’s cinematography is nearly monochromatic, echoing the drabness of Ruza’s canteen. From her viewpoint, life is neither good nor bad, it just is. And while that’s a truism, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun now and again. Both women fear death — Ruza as an abstract event that will put a stamp of uselessness on her existence, and Ana as something that might happen tonight. Ana spends her limited existence as an agent for change, and she’ll have more effect in one year than Ruza in a lifetime.
Film Movement is a Movie of the Month society specializing in lesser known directors and stories. These are the films you would see on the secondary screens in Cannes or Telluride, but they deserve a wider audience, particularly among those of us who tire of the latest CGI SFX BS repackages. There’s always a short film or two included, and those are the works that really fall off the edge of the world. This DVD includes the mysterious Happiness, directed by Sophie Barthes and starring Elzbieta Czyzewska. Her resumé impresses, although few of her films have been released in America. The short shows her mundane job as quality control inspector at the condom factory, and her purchase of a box of happiness. It’s not clear what the box contains. After a day of contemplation, she returns it and buys some uncomfortably erotic heels. I can’t promise this film will affect you that deeply, but it is a small gem and a classic European style story.
Film Movement: www.filmmovement.com