Featuring: Nina Violic, Zeljka Sukova, Mila Culjak, Petr Marek, Prokop Holoubek, Marketa Lisa, Cvjetana Lovric and Loredana Presta.
Writer/director: Zeljka Sukova
The latest volley from the new wave of deconstructionist documentarians who seem determined to redefine the factual film-making format is Zeljka Sukova’s Croatian oddity, Marija’s Own. The efforts of three young women to give their late grandmother the send-off she deserves mixes actors and real-life relatives, deep family emotions and electro-pop tunes to generally winning effect, though just when real becomes unreal (and, occasionally, surreal) will inspire debate over its worthiness.
Despite its truncated 62 minute running time, a great deal is learnt about the life and legacy of Marija Violić who, as revealed in a vivid opening collage of family photos and voiceover, was laid to rest in 2004 in an unremarkable grave in her hometown of Rijeka. Though she stated in her final years that no one would miss her when she was gone, the truth is that her influence touched all the women in her family and she is remembered with great fondness.
Her granddaughters - the filmmaker herself, famous local actress Nina Violic and Danira (who, signifying the Sukova's intent to mess with reality, is played by Mila Culjak) – decide to throw a long overdue wake for their nanna, during which they will ask each guest to design an honorary ornament to be placed on the freshly-restored burial site. Fuelled by the overall joie de vivre of the family gathering (and lots of red wine), the scenes in which the feisty female family elders present their ideas is a hoot. Marija’s Own is certainly not a dour trudge through memory and loss but, at its best, a buoyant celebration of family life.
The films shortcomings emerge from the idiosyncrasies imposed upon it via manufactured elements. There is a nagging suspicion that the event, though mostly played-out with warmth on-screen, was crafted with greater enthusiasm for the fictional components; at key moments that require a poignancy only real-life captured on film can provide, a few frames of falseness often prove to be Sukova’s undoing. The director’s decision to shoehorn Czech synth-pop trio Midi Lidi into the already-cramped confines of the dining room setting results in some quaintly endearing moments though more often seems just plain strange.
The film fumbles its ending, which comes to a moving peak involving all the guests gathered around the newly-decorated grave (Ales Suk’s editing in this sequence is top-notch) before descending into an misjudged end-credit passage during which the elderly ladies take part in a music-video clip for the band. Despite all the indulgent add-on elements that Sukova imposes upon her debut work, there is sufficient insight and honesty to transcend the conceit. Most importantly, the spirit of Nanna Violić that imbues the film with a touching resonance remains tangible throughout.