Thursday, September 18, 2008

FRÄULEIN (not the one with Dana Wynter)

Maybe midway through Andrea Staka's Das Fräulein (opening in the US via Film Movement simply as FRÄULEIN) there occurs a scene in which a major character begins to open up, relax, and feel. We've seen this kind of thing many times before, but Ms Staka, together with her wonderful actress Mirjana Karanovic, makes it seem as though we're virgins to an experience like this. We hang on every tiny movement and facial expression, barely breathing, as another actress, the equally fine Marija Scaricic, keeps pushing and pulling to bring Ms Karanovic to life. I think it was at this point that I realized I'd follow these women anywhere (Ljubica Jovic portrays the third), so real did they seem and so important had their lives become to me.

Immigrants to Switzerland (they come from the former Yugoslavia), the ladies span three generations, and each of their problems, quite different one from the next, are shown subtly but specifically. Ms Staka (shown above, right) has previously written and directed one short and one documentary, and Fräulein, her first full-length narrative feature, is indeed short (barely 80 minutes, including credits) and most definitely has a documentary feel. She understands the importance of brevity and gives us just enough information about her women to hook us and keep us on that hook. (Barbara Albert -- Falling, Free Radicals -- collaborated on the screenplay, along with Marie Kreutzer.)

Because the characters come from a recently war-torn place, you may expect the usual baggage, revealed secrets and angst¸ but the moviemaker holds these in check. We learn very little about the past; the war is spoken of in passing and we do sense losses for each woman. But their lives are in the here-and-now and Staka's understanding of this gives her film immediacy and strength. The movie may not, finally, go where you'd prefer, but I doubt you'll be able to dispute its reality. Fräulein, a rich and moving experience in its own right, also offers a bright promise of things to come from Ms Staka.

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