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An emotionally absorbing ensemble drama full of dramatic swerves and chronological loops, You Carry Me feels like a Balkan cousin of Crash or 21 Grams. Novelistic in scope and texture, the Croatian writer-director Ivona Juka’s confident feature debut screened in Sarajevo last week following its award-winning, rave-reviewed release domestically. Strong performances, high production values and universal themes are all potential selling points overseas, though the largely family-centric script lacks any strikingly original twist that might have amplified its marketable clout. A Chick Flick in the best sense, Juka’s Bechdel-friendly, female-driven drama has solid festival credentials and the heart-tugging middlebrow polish of a potential Oscar contender.
Set in a wintry Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, the story divides into three character studies, all overlapping in time and place. Dora (Helena Beljan) is a tomboy schoolgirl with a fierce love of soccer and a complex relationship with her father Vedran (Goran Hajdukovi?), a petty criminal newly returned to his family after years on the run. Tension crackles at home as Dora’s mother Lidija, played by flame-haired Julianne Moore lookalike Nataša Janji?, loses patience with Vedran’s shady lifestyle, demanding that he either finds a legal job or leaves the family for good.
Lidija works in the make-up department on a long-running TV soap called Prisoners of Happiness, where Ives (Lana Bari?) is a director and Natasa (Nataša Dor?i?) the main producer. Ives lives on an emotional knife edge due to sharing an apartment with her ageing father Ivan (Vojislav Brajovi?), a befuddled Alzheimer’s sufferer who requires constant care, and frequently endangers himself on wild rambles through the city’s icy streets. Though she initially seems the most secure of the protagonists, Natasa is also wrestling with serious problems, from mutinous cast members to marital tensions. As the story deepens, new layers of anguish reveal themselves: infidelity, pregnancy, violent crime and serious illness.
Juka juggles a large cast and multiple plotlines with a deft touch, never overplaying the melodrama card even as the lives of her characters increasingly come to mirror the overwrought TV soap that binds them together. Punctuated with poetic, dreamlike imagery, with stones and tunnels serving as visual motifs, each chapter has room for its own historical and psychological hinterland. This abundance of novelistic nuance explains the film’s baggy running time of 155 minutes. A slightly tighter edit would have helped excise the odd moment of rambling narrative drift.
Mostly drawn from the Croatian theater scene, the cast are uniformly excellent. Beljan merits special mention as Dora, an androgynous gamine whose too-cool-for-school bravado masks emotional depths she cannot fully articulate. A non-professional with a colorful background on both sides of the law, Hajdukovi? also brings an edge of authenticity to his debut big-screen role as a small-time gangster struggling to go straight for his kids. Mostly shooting hand-held in tight close-up and wintry tints, cinematographer Mario Olja?a highlights the stifling familial intimacy that powers the story. A hymn to compassion and forgiveness that never falls for glib, simplistic solutions, You Carry Me is a classy and compelling exercise in superior soap opera.
Production company: 4film
Cast: Lana Bari?, Vojislav Brajovi?, Helena Beljan, Goran Hajdukovi?, Nataša Janji?, Juraj Dabi?, Nataša Dor?i?, Filip Križan, Sebastian Cavazza
Director, screenwriter: Ivona Juka
Cinematographer: Mario Olja?a
Editor: Vladimir Gojun
Producer: Anita Juka
Music: Teho Teardo
Sales company: 4film, Zagreb
No rating, 155 minutes
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