Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Set in damp, wintry Zurich, “Fraulein” is one of those small scale, grungy melodramas that seems tailor-made for the German language. A series of coincidences unite a successful cafeteria owner named Ruza (Murjana Karanovic) and her assistant Mila (Ljubica Jovic), both émigrés from the old Yugoslavia, with young Ana, a newly arrived and emotionally scarred Bosnian refugee (Marija Skaricic).
Ruza and Mila, now middle-aged, left Yugoslavia decades earlier, before the nation was ravaged by war. When homeless Ana shows up at the cafeteria seeking employment, Ruza grudgingly agrees, but keeps a suspicious eye on Ana, who Ruza regards as inferior, and possibly uncivilized. But Ana is so full of spirit and energy that Ruza begins to respect and even admire her young employee and, despite their deep cultural differences, a bond of friendship develops.
But under Ana’s passionate zest for life is a dark and stunning secret, a secret that ultimately makes her a richer and deeper character. Culturally, there is much in this story that is Yugoslavian “inside baseball”, and most viewers will have difficulty fully appreciating the subtleties of Mila and Ana’s relationship at first, but director Andrea Staka does a fine job of filling in the blanks, and eventually we have a firm grasp of the complex view those from the former Yugoslavia have of themselves and each other.
Even comically frumpy Mila gets in on the act, as Ana inspires her to accept the fact that the homeland she knew is no more, and to begin looking forward instead of sulking over the past. But this is Marija Skaricic’s film, and her portrayal of Ana, a character whose generous, life-affirming spirit extends to everyone but herself, is a performance this reviewer won’t soon forget, and I hope we get more opportunities to see her on screen in the coming years.
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