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FRAULEIN (Fräulein, Das) (director/writer: Andrea Staka; screenwriters: Barbara Albert/Marie Kreutzer; cinematographer: Igor Martinovic; editor: Gion-Reto Killias; music: Peter von Siebenthal/Till Wyler/Daniel Jakob; cast: Mirjana Karanovic (Ruza), Marija Skaricic (Ana), Ljubica Jovic (Mila), Andrea Zogg (Franz), Zdenko Jelcic (Ante), Pablo Aguilar (Fredi); Runtime: 81; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Susann Rüdlinger/Samir Mirjam Quinte/Davor Pusic; Film Movement; 2006-Switzerland/Germany-Swiss-German-Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian with English subtitles)
“Murky drama about three displaced immigrant women with deep emotional scars”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Swiss director of Bosnian and Croatian heritage, Andrea Staka, offers on her directorial debut this murky drama about three displaced immigrant women with deep emotional scars who come from different generations, different cultures and different parts of the former Yugoslavia, who are living in Zurich. Directors Barbara Albert and Marie Kreutzer cowrite the screenplay with Ms. Staka, and the slight plot is topped off with a sensitive character laden offering that unfortunately offers no back story. It’s good on creating a misty and maudlin atmosphere (filmed in Switzerland), but not so good on its storytelling.

The fifty-something Serbian, Ruza (Mirjana Karanovic), a lonely single woman who left Belgrade 25 years ago and never looked back at the old country except to attend her mother’s funeral, leads a comfortable but joyless life as the gruff owner of a cafeteria, where she employs the elderly loyal Croatian worker Mila (Ljubica Jovic). The married Mila has a home back in the old country and is thinking of returning when she retires. One day, the itinerant 22-year-old Ana (Marija Skaricic), who just arrived from her home in Sarajevo unannounced, seeks work in the canteen and gets hired by the reluctant Ruza. The impulsive Bosnian tries to cheer up the depressed Ruza and also deal with her leukemia, which she keeps secret.

The film is seriously short on details of the women’s life (also skirting history, though the war history of the former Yugoslavia is what drastically changed their lives and left them feeling brutalized), except that they’re all in a funk, have constant glum expressions and bond because they have roots in a country that no longer exists. The snapshot we get of their lives only gives us enough of a peek so we think we might know what they’re all about, even if we don’t. The gist of the film shows how Ana succeeds with her prodding of injecting some life into her melancholy boss, who soon views her as the daughter she never had and through her sees what passed her by in life. Too much is left unsaid and can only be surmised, as it’s never explained why Ana comes to Zurich or why she suddenly leaves for Geneva without telling anyone after receiving hospital treatment for her leukemia.

It’s a vague refugee story that only manages to give the viewer some ready-made glimpses of the three women befuddled by their fate, as Ruza adjusts to her new country with an orderly but empty life, Mila works hard and comes to the realization that her home is in Zurich and Ana tries to forget about her war-torn past and her serious health issues by seeking pleasure in hedonistic activities.

It was the winner of the Golden Leopard award for best film in the Locarno Film Festival.

REVIEWED ON 10/23/2008 GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”