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Fueled By A Powerful Performance, 'God Exists, Her Name Is Petrunya' Is Wild And Transcendent

1844 Entertainment

In the new film from Macedonia, God Exists, Her Name Is Petrunya, a woman creates an uproar when she takes the prize in a men-only ritual. And for KUNC film critic Howie Movshovitz, who teaches film at CU Denver, the movie has a typical Macedonian blend of chaos, humor, and serious intent.

At times, God Exists, Her Name Is Petrunya by Teona Strugar Mitevska is a jumble. It can be brilliant; it can fall off its own track; it can be mystifying. But it’s always fascinating, and that counts. Movies don’t have to be perfect; it they’re interesting and full of life, that’s enough.

Petrunya (Zorcia Nusheva) lies in bed under the covers to eat a piece of toast her mother slides in to her. She’s ashamed of her weight and she has no job. She has a university degree in history, but no one cares about history — which says plenty about the world Petrunya inhabits. She interviews for a job at a sewing factory where the boss wants to cop a feel, so when she escapes from him, she filches the upper half of a mannequin and heads off.

It’s a tortured world. At the start of the movie, Petrunya stands motionless in an empty Olympic-sized swimming pool, with lane lines painted on the bottom. Around her are grim apartment blocks, empty factories, and the dry grass of winter. Meanwhile, a priest leads a procession of monks. They’re heading for the river for a yearly ritual in which the priest throws a small cross into the water and young men from the town dive in after it. Whoever comes up with the cross will have good luck.

It’s a wild scene. The priest and the chanting monks stand on a bridge. The priest intones prayers through a squawky bullhorn and the shirtless young men yell rudely at him to hurry up because it’s cold. It’s a crazy mix of religion, sacrilege, rowdy young men, a chaotic crowd and one lonely woman who manages to escape the tumult.

Petrunya, despised by nearly everyone, watches from underneath the bridge. Then, without warning, but exactly as you know she will, she leaps into the river, dress, coat, and all — and snatches the cross.

Like many films from this part of the world, the metaphors are so blunt that they radiate the absurdity of the immediate scene and the world itself. The mob hates Petrunya. She’s ruined the ritual which is supposed to involve only men. They call her all sorts of names and you’d think she had disgraced the town, the church, the name of God and all of those fanatical and hypocritical young men who proclaim their love of the sacred and cheer the idea of getting drunk when they have the cross.

The authorities have no idea who’s in charge or what offense Petrunya may have committed. She’s taken to the police station where cops scream at her, although one young cop quietly gets her some water. A priest tries empty reason on her. The mob of young men outside look like a lynching party. A young TV reporter jumps into the confusion. She sticks her microphone into people’s faces and asks off-the-point questions. She’s on Petrunya’s side and wants somehow to do an exposé on how badly Petrunya has been treated, but her intrusions miss the point. What emerges in the movie is the power of Petrunya herself.

In all of this wild fray, Petrunya slowly and patiently asks whether she is under arrest and what exactly has she done wrong. Actor Zorcia Nusheva sits quietly on a chair. It’s an uncanny performance. Her stillness becomes beautiful, and in a film with this fabulous title, God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya, her composure is the center of elegant, touching serenity that makes the movie transcendent — in its unruly way.

A couple of characters figure it out. Her presence has made way for a crucial missing element of human life — the movie ends with simple kindness.

Howie Movshovitz came to Colorado in 1966 as a VISTA Volunteer and never wanted to leave. After three years in VISTA, he went to graduate school at CU-Boulder and got a PhD in English, focusing on the literature of the Middle Ages. In the middle of that process, though (and he still loves that literature) he got sidetracked into movies, made three shorts, started writing film criticism and wound up teaching film at the University of Colorado-Denver. He continues to teach in UCD’s College of Arts & Media.
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