Capsule Review – God Exists, Her Name Is Petrunya (Sydney Film Festival 2019)

 

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Teona Strugar Mitevska‘s God Exists, Her Name Is Petrunya is an enjoyable comedy/drama about a woman who fights the odds, involving the patriarchy, religion and the authorities; all because of a ridiculous premise that is so unbelievable, that it must’ve been true. And indeed, it is.

One of the reasons it succeeds so well is because of Strugar Mitevska’s assured direction. She is able to achieve the perfect balance between self-awareness (in terms of the premise) and its seriousness (in terms of portraying the stakes of the story); which makes the tone shifts from dry comedy to stern drama a lot smoother and more palatable.

Another reason why the film succeeds is Strugar Mitevska’s portrayal of the impact that Petrunya has had in her world, through the character of Slavina (Labina Mitevska), a reporter who is suddenly inspired, after suffering through the many flights caused by the men in her life (e.g. Her cameraman and her off-screen husband). The more she becomes attuned into the story, the more she engaged she becomes, which not only ends with an ambiguous, yet still progressive character arc conclusion, but her character also points out holes in the arguments against Petrunya with good observational humour. The film also succeeds in showing generation gaps as to how women act, like the contrast between Petrunya and her mother, who can’t understand why her daughter keeps trying to break the mold.

But the best reason the film works as great as it does is due to the lead performance by Zorica Nusheva, who makes her feature film debut, after her extensive experience in theatre. Her nuanced turn as the long-suffering yet resiliently headstrong Petrunya speaks volumes, as she convincingly conveys her sorrow in terms of her hardships, her fleeting moments of joy and especially her anger at the world; sometimes all within a single stare.

The film may not explore its themes of political intrigue, sexual politics and the ending can be seen as a bit abrupt for some (as it was evident during the Q&A after the film), but in the end, God Exists, Her Name Is Petrunya is a film that does more than enough to succeed.


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