A Film a Week - My Last Year as a Loser / Ne bom več luzerka

Urša Menart's fiction feature debut My Last Year as a Loser premiered last year at the Slovenian Film Festival in Portorož to a number of awards, including one for the best film. Later on it went into the distribution followed by usually raving reviews of the established film critics at home, focusing on its vibrancy regarding the depicting of Slovenian youth struggling to make a decisive step into the adulthood for a number of reasons that usually have nothing to do with themselves individually or as a group. While Menart's film undoubtedly has some strong points, as a whole it is also struggling to break the patterns as it is the case with its protagonist.

We meet Špela, played by Eva Jesenovec, also a debutante in a feature format, in a good period of life that is about to end soon. She lives with her computer programmer boyfriend in a rented apartment and works two part-time jobs, as a swimming pool lifeguard and at a reception desk of the museum. She has some high hopes for the latter one, since she is an art historian and internships like this usually progress into something more substantial. Her social life, however, is not blossoming since two of her best friends went abroad to chase their dreams.

The things that follow could be described as a streak of bad luck. First, her boyfriend goes to San Francisco to jump-start his career, leaving Špela behind. Then the permanent job she considered to be a sure thing slips out of her hands due to bureaucracy issues. Špela has to move back to her parents, an unemployed father and over-worked mother, and to sleep on the couch since her grandmother has moved into her old room. Job prospects are slim: low-paid internships, some volunteering, and she is not even eligible for student jobs, so she has to go for scheme and "rent" someone's student status.

Meeting her co-worker Suzi (Živa Selan, radiant and brilliant in a role that usually plays out trashy) might prove to be her lucky break because Suzi has the thing Špela lacks: the tough-as-nails attitude that she will be fine no matter what. Špela quickly moves in with her new friend and her misfit flatmates and for a while it seems she "grows a pair". But is she really determined not to be a loser any more? And, even if she is, will the world accept it?

Film-wise, My Last Year as a Loser can be described as a Slovenian (or Central-East-European) variation on mumblecore cinema in a more modern way since it is not that dialogue-heavy and action-free. Basically, it is a string of low-intensity events that actually feel genuine for a post-student, but pre-work life of an individual on the brink of 30's. So we have a bit of hanging around, a bit of partying and some conversations that are not all that wise and unravelling as they might seem to Špela and her friends, like the standard dilemma "to leave or to stay and make your own environment better". We also get a quirky and well-executed metaphor revolving around an old bicycle that gets stolen. So, kudos to Menart for that.

The writer-director documentary background also shows a bit, since Menart has a talent to make the background of the film (the social landscape of Slovenia and particularly Ljubljana, the gap between the generations, the vignettes of student and post-student life) as interesting, or even more interesting than the main plot. The semi-autobiographical feeling can be read from a number of small details and anecdotes she fills the film with, sometimes played for whole-hearted laughs, sometimes landing not so well.

But as a "hero's journey" type of film or a case study on how good kids end up as "losers", as suggested in its very strong title, Menart's film kinda drops the ball, since it is obvious that it is not Špela's last year as a loser. Maybe it is intentional irony from Menart's part, but there is no confirmation for that since the writer-director is usually warm towards her protagonist, caring and cheering for her most of the time. The key of the problem might be even the heroine herself, since Špela seems more like a collection of stereotypes about young hipster population than a real person. I am not saying that that type of person does not exist, because it certainly does, but questioning if that was Menart's intention.

The other problem is the structure, or the complete lack of it in a solid form, so we get a number of sub-plots going nowhere and events without consequences. Having that in mind, it is fair to be said that My Last Year as a Loser is not tedious film, but it feels like going in small circles, pretty much as its protagonist. Strong acting by its young and vibrant cast (Timon Štrubej of Consequences fame can also be seen in a small, but rewarding role) decent score and appealing camerawork do the trick to a point, but not all the way. In the end, My Last Year as a Loser is a decent (or even slightly better than that) effort, but not exactly an admirable one.

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