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Every January in a small town in North Macedonia, the high priest throws a cross into the local waters, while dozens of men charge for it. The one who finds the cross is believed to gain overall good fortune and prosperity. An unemployed single young woman Petrunija jumps into the water and catches the cross. In this conservative setting, her competitors feel they have every right to be furious: a woman dared to compete and achieve what they failed to succeed in. Petrunija insists that she is the winner and refuses to return the cross.
Beautiful story, covering religious traditions and ineradicable male chauvinism. A "loser" category woman rises to the challenge and an improved version comes out of it
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the official Competition for the golden bear. The jury awarded none of the available prices, however, but still I was very satisfied to have seen thie movie. At its core is a nice story, that develops very well, irrespective of the initial setting of a "loser" type of woman who consistently fails to find a job. It covered lots of social commentary about religious traditions dating back from medieval times and about ineradicable male chauvinism. Both topics were to be expected after having read the synopsis.
You can imagine that it has all the elements of a biblic parable, combining several parties who all claim they are right: (a) the vaste gathering of young men, having trained for diving to get the cross, but Petrunija was first, so the men hold that she "stole" the cross while only men can participate in the ritual since centuries, (b) the church is involved, but the patriarch refuses to file a complaint that she "stole" the cross, which would be a lie, so he tries several other arguments, (c) the police, populated of course with lots of male chauvinist pigs, but not all of them fit in that category, (d) the two parents, concerned about what the neighbours will say, and (e) a woman journalist accompanied by a male camera man, having their internal struggles with their bosses and with each other.
Everything that happens in this movie, a lot more than can be derived from above ingredients, showcases the current state of that part of the continent: it is a small world, and residuals of past centuries are still very persistent. The visible presence of mobile phones at the scene where the cross is dropped in the river, allowing the diving act of Petrunija to be filmed and going "viral" on Youtube, seems contradictory to the previous sentence. Can it both be true??
The nice thing is that we see Petrunya change from a sheep to a wolf, something related to a story told by the interrogating police officer, about a sheep disguised as a wolf. But then she turns the story around in the final scene.
Petrunija is a perfect example of a "loser" in the beginning, but she becomes calmer and calmer as the story progresses. We see her grow to become a better woman out of it after this experience. Notwithstanding (I must admit) that I had expected some police brutality while she was held in "for her protection" custody, but there was none of it. And neither is there any trace of corruption, albeit common in many East-European police forces (I know that Macedonie is no ex-Sovjet country, but still I cannot avoid thinking of the many ex-USSR movies that I've seen).
All in all, while covering several interesting topics as side dishes on the menu, the fact that Petrunya rises to the challenge and comes out of it as a better version of herself, is the main course of this story. Unattractive as she is from the outset, the process she goes through is richer with developments than could be assumed from the synopsis. So ignore the uninviting title of this movie, and book tickets for it at your earliest convenience.
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