Review by Sean Boelman
Enormously angry but in the best way possible, the Macedonian film God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya is one of the most underappreciated international movies of the year so far. Teona Strugar Mitevska’s film is a hard-to-watch but rewarding drama, with a not-too-subtle but captivating exploration of important issues.
The movie follows a woman who stirs up her community when she participates in the traditionally male-only ceremony of the Epiphany, causing her to find herself in social and legal trouble. The thing that makes this film so infuriatingly powerful is the fact that it is inspired by a true story, making its seemingly melodramatic leanings feel much more grounded.
For the first thirty minutes or so, we are watching as the protagonist grows increasingly frustrated with her life before she reaches that breaking point. After that, the remaining hour begins to resemble a procedural drama that takes us through the ways in which the patriarchal systems of the Macedonian government and the church oppress women.
As one would expect, the main themes of this movie are largely critical of the patriarchy and organized religion. Sometimes, it does feel as if the film is biting off a bit more than it can chew in terms of themes, but more often than not, it’s an interesting and thought-provoking take on these ideas from a unique perspective.
Admittedly, the character development in the movie is somewhat shallow. The protagonist is a likable character, although her arc exists entirely in service of the themes. As for all of the supporting characters, they are near caricatures with how they pose an obstacle to the protagonist.
Lead actress Zorica Nusheva does an exceptional job in her role. She completely inhabits the role in a way that draws us into Petrunya’s world. A majority of the film is carried on Nusheva’s back, and she steps up in a way that is consistently impressive. The supporting cast is also really solid, although their performances are largely meant to complement Nusheva.
Stylistically, the movie is very gritty and grounded, which works very well for the end product. One of the most impressive things about Mitevska’s style is how she creates a feeling of claustrophobia within the back half of the film, as the protagonist’s world comes crashing down around them.
God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya is one of those movies that succeeds largely thanks to its ambition. Even though it doesn’t hit all of its lofty goals, the fact that it set out to reach them in the first place is admirable in and of itself.
God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya is now in theaters and virtual cinemas.