Directed by #TeonaStrugarMitevska
Film review by Nathanial Eker
Dealing with a patriarchal ceremony more unrelentingly sexist than even the worst constructs of our western ideology must be unbearably frustrating for a woman. This idea as a template for a tale of female empowerment is a strong one, and the premise of God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya is undeniably excellent. Unfortunately, writer and director Teona Strugar Mitevska becomes muddled to the point of exhaustion once the core conflict is established, as the film reveals itself as an unappealing blend of untapped potential and clumsy commentary, sluggishly limping towards a lazy climax.
Petrunya is a thirty-two-year-old woman from North Macedonia with a degree in history. She struggles to find employment and thus lives at home with her overbearing mother and passive father. One day following an unsuccessful interview with a gross caricature of a factory owner, she witnesses a traditional Christian ritual, in which a group of men jump into the river to try and salvage a cross thrown by a priest; whoever wins will have good luck for a year. In a moment of spontaneity, Petrunya leaps in and claims the cross, leading to profound abuse from religious followers, police officers, and a mob of angry chauvinists alike, all for the crime of being a woman.
While the central theme of prejudice is commendable, over the one hour forty-minute run time, it takes unnecessary precedence over a naturally escalating narrative. From the beginning, men are presented as repulsive sex machines, hurling misogynistic insults without a hint of realistic intent. Of course, people like this remain a sad reality, but the extent to which Mitevska portrays nearly every man as a vessel for toxic masculinity harms the verisimilitude of her film. This in turns creates an unfocused message. Is the film an attack on organised religion? An attack on North Macedonian society as a whole, even? Or is it merely a question of gender? Mitevska fails to address these concerns, instead creating an unpleasant atmosphere and little else, bar a hint of underdeveloped romance with a sympathetic-by-comparison police officer.
It’s unfortunate then that the lead performance by Zorica Nusheva is so convincingly genuine. Petrunya is portrayed with a wonderful sense of self and a frustration that culminates in a volatile confrontation with her abusive Mother, who is seemingly absolved by virtue of being born in a different era. Other performances are more mixed, and Petrunya herself serves as the only truly engaging character throughout, as she’s consistently surrounded by walking stereotypes and plot hurdles; an odd choice.
Equally odd is the use of music, particularly the opening scene which zooms in on our lead, whilst blasting a healthy dose of which genre? Death metal. The reason? Your guess is as good as mine.
To review, God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya is a disappointing mess. The film wants to say something powerful about the dominance of the patriarchy, but the extent is unclear, and it ultimately satirises its own ethos through its unrealistic players and heavy-handed approach. Mitevska plants the seeds of interesting concepts, but fails to water them, creating a film that basks in its own commentary, without saying anything particularly substantial.