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Tuesday
Feb022016

A Good Wife

A Good Wife [Dobra zena]
Directed by: Mirjana Karanovic
Released at: Sundance Film Festival 2016
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Commencing and concluding with a disrupting male gaze that focuses on two circles of sorts, Serbian actor Mirjana Karanovic makes an impressive debut as director and co-writer in A Good 
Wife, a film about personal and political cancer in current Serbia. 

Milena (Karanovic) is 50-year-old mother of three taking care of hubby (Boris Isakovic) and household in a small suburb outside of Belgrade. A woman with little identity of her own, Milena fills her days shopping, gossiping with other equally vacuous (yet not so wealthy) housewives and watching home videos. 

Life has been pretty easy for Milena until she gets a double dose of bad news. One has to do with her health and the other pertains to her husband’s behavior during ethnic cleaning during the Bosnian War -- which she was hoping to ignore for the rest of her life. This threat from both the inside and the outside pushes Milena to serious question her role as a mother, a wife and a Serbian. And questioning one’s identity or history is not something her husband appreciates. 
 
Yet the somewhat heavy handed screenplay by Karanovic, Stevan Filipovic and Darko Lungulov makes sure nobody in the film of Milena’s generation escapes the cancer crawling throughout the family and country. The younger generations, however, are ready to face the facts. Milena’s oldest daughter, Nata (Hristina Popovic), works for a human rights organization in Belgrade. Apparently she picked up the job after writing an essay about “hating her own nation,” according to her father. 
 
Meanwhile, the television continually plays some taking heads who will not stop discussing Serbia’s recent human rights abuses and war crimes. While Milena is somewhat piqued by the conversation, it drives her husband wild with fear and anger. One rightly suspects he has plenty to fear and shame. “How dare you investigate me!”
 
There is plenty of investigation needed, indeed. Viewers will understand what is going on before the characters admit it. This is not so much because A Good Wife is straightforward, but rather because of the narrative structure and the excellent performances given by the cast. In particular, Karanovic’s performance is noteworthy. Most actors who direct themselves manage to garner mediocre performances, but Karanovic’s lays it on the line under her own direction – along with director of photographer Erol Zubcevic – and gives what could be one of the best performances of the year. I know, it is early, but you might see it for yourself (at Sundance or upcoming film festivals).

 

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