Review by Joseph Fayed
Over the years, many early-career directors have made family dramas heavily focusing on the family's youngest member. They tell the story of hardships while treading lightly with melancholy. Making her impressive directorial debut, Sara Kern's Moja & Vesna is the latest to add to this trend.
Ten-year-old Moja lives with her father and her pregnant 20-year-old sister in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. The family is still grieving the unexpected loss of their matriarch, while Moja is seemingly the only one who anticipates the arrival of her niece. Feeling that Vesna can fill the gap their mother left behind, Moja looks forward to a brighter future.
The film's point of view doesn't come directly from Moja — the most interesting of the three — and it pays off. Moja still serves as the protagonist, but viewers are allowed to make assumptions about her family that a 10-year-old simply can't comprehend. Moja has the quirks any kid her age would have, but one distinction is that she can process her feelings like an adult can, too. The script sees Moja have a blend of both child-like and adult personalities, but a consistent trait she has is being mellowed out. Her emotional maturity is well written as her actions speak louder than words and prove Moja is much more stable than she may realize.
It is hard to describe Vesna other than she is someone who, whenever she opens her mouth, you expect her to yell. Thankfully, she does very little of that. Vesna is truly broken on the inside, and she is the most emotionally driven. Her pregnancy serves as another misstep to her; positive encouragement shows a glimmer of what she could be like as a mother, but it is clear why she is not ready to handle that role. Loti Kovacic and Mackenzie Mazur have great chemistry as Moja and Vesna, and the latter's performance is elevated when she acts opposite her sister Moja, who becomes more of an adult than Vesna is.
The supporting characters are well-acted, too. Moja and Vesna's father, Milos, wears his grief over his wife's death on his sleeve. Moja's friend Danger is the carefree spirit she craves the most, and Danger's mother — the biggest outsider to the rest of the characters — wants to help Moja but just can't put herself in Moja's shoes soon enough to make a difference. These three and their storylines represent parts of her life that Moja is willing to embrace, even if Vesna becomes increasingly distant from her family.
Moja & Vesna will make you want a supportive sister if you don't already have one. It is raw and candid in how a child is supposed to deal with loss, as it should be. This take on how grim the present is for a girl and how she vows to have a bright future not only for herself but those surrounding her is as fascinating as any childhood fairytale. Do yourself a favor and give this film the nice warm embrace it deserves instead of giving it the cold shoulder.
Moja & Vesna is now streaming on IndiePix Unlimited.