A Film a Week - Tereza37

 previously published on Cineuropa

Tereza37 could be considered the victim of circumstances since its once-delayed premiere, which took place in Motovun instead of the postponed Pula Film Festival. The film got some festival exposure, was complemented with various awards regionally and internationally, but the most of its festival activities were affected by the second and the third waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its domestic distribution was limited to art house venues that are still suffering from the blow they got from the pandemic. Maybe its status as the official Croatian submission for the 2022 Academy Awards will turn things around, but the chances are not great.

The title stands for the protagonist played by Lana Barić, who is also the screenwriter. We meet her on one particularly unpleasant morning, as she wakes up next to a puddle of blood on her bed: her fourth miscarriage. For sure, Tereza wants to have children, but even more than that, she is pressured by her unsupportive and frequently absent mariner husband Marko (Leon Lučev in another turn as the typical Balkan macho man), by her own family and by society as a whole. The order of things is pretty strict in the city of Split: a woman of a certain age should have children, especially if she has a job (Tereza works part-time at the local theatre) and if she is married.

Acting on the advice of her folksy gynaecologist (Arijana Čulina in yet another brilliant comedic turn), Tereza starts changing partners (as Nikola, Dragan Mićanović of Coriolanus, RocknRolla and Papillon fame has the most onscreen chemistry with Barić) while Marko is away, promptly discarding every single one of them when they fail to impregnate her. Acting on the obsessions of herself, her family and her environment, she gets closer and closer to dangerous territory.

Tereza37 is the new addition in a line of recent Croatian films centred around female protagonists that examine the patriarchy in the coastal region of Dalmatia. This trend started a few years ago with Hana Jušić’s Quit Staring at My Plate (2016) and continued with Jure Pavlović’s Mater (2019) and Andrea Štaka’s Mare (2020). One of the key ideas explored by this wave is the notion that tradition, patriarchy included, is not necessarily imposed by the male members of the family, since they tend to be absent or disinterested, but by the elder women who become its fieriest keepers. The key difference in Tereza37 is the setting: a city that is big enough to absorb the influences of modernity and to tempt our protagonist with them.

As the director, Danilo Šerbedžija, whose debut feature 72 Days (2010) was also the Croatian entry for the foreign-language Oscar, usually does well telling someone else’s story. The key factor for the film is its scriptwriter and star Lana Barić who knows the milieu, the mentality and the geography of the town very well, which is enough to elevate it from the status of mere location to that of character. In that department, Šerbedžija and Barić use the help of Split-born DoP Mirko Pivčević who tends to focus on the brutalist residential blocks on the hills above the city centre, the way the light plays with the white concrete and the anxiety that this kind of environment is prone to inducing, making Tereza37 quite a moody film.

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