Film Review: ‘A Good Wife’

A Good Wife Sundance 2016
Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

The repressed returns with a vengeance in the classical feature debut of acclaimed actress-turned-helmer Mirjana Karanovic.

The repressed return with a vengeance in “A Good Wife,” a classically styled directorial debut for acclaimed actress-turned-helmer Mirjana Karanovic, who also takes the lead role in this tale of a middle-aged woman in postwar Serbia forced to face several unpleasant truths. Brave on many levels, it may be perceived by some as naive — or, with regard to its political context, simply too little, too late. Karanovic’s reputation and the pic’s femme p.o.v. should see it hitched to further fests, with niche distribution a possibility in sympathetic territories.

Milena (Karanovic) is a nice-looking, 50-ish housewife with a comfortable home in a small Vojvodina suburb, not far from Belgrade. As part of a generation of women in thrall to their husbands, who consider motherhood and homemaking their primary role, Milena feels well off compared to many of her friends. Although hubby Vlada (Boris Isakovic, who recently played a nasty piece of work in the Dutch Oscar submission “The Paradise Suite”) may not be the tenderest or most sensitive man in the world, he is a good provider of material things — and not a skirt chaser, unlike others in his former paramilitary unit. Yet it also saddens her that he is estranged from their eldest daughter Natasha (Hristina Popovic), who works for a human rights NGO in Belgrade.

After a doctor’s appointment confirms something she was trying to ignore — a lump in her breast — Milena embarks on a furious bout of cleaning. She happens upon a videotape from happier times, but to her surprise, it also contains some shocking wartime footage of Vlada’s unit arbitrarily executing bound and frightened Bosnian civilians. Now viewing the world through more alert eyes, Milena must reconsider everything that she once took for granted in her life; as she continues to study her husband and their milieu, a craving for justice subsumes her desire for affection.

Karanovic and her co-screenwriters Stevan Filipovic and Darko Lungulov (who directed Karanovic to great effect in “Here and There”) apply the metaphor of removing a malignancy both to the cancer in Milena’s breast and to the war criminals still extant in Serbian society. The extended opening and closing images of Karanovic’s bare breasts rep courage on her part; so, at a more practical level, does her delving into crimes committed by the paramilitaries.

As a performer, Karanovic has continued to collaborate with filmmakers from other parts of former Yugoslavia after the country’s dissolution. Certain significant roles, such as the raped Bosnian mother in “Grbavica” (also from “A Good Wife” co-producer Jasmila Zbanic) and the Croatian widow in Vinko Bresan’s “Witnesses,” have not endeared her to political elements back in Serbia, though she has been recognized with the Winning Freedom award from the Belgrade-based Maja Marsicevic Tasic Foundation.

As a helmer, Karanovic particularly excels in the most intimate scenes between Milena and Vlada. But there are nonetheless weaknesses in “A Good Wife’s” screenplay, which feels a tad thin where Milena’s children are concerned — particularly on the subject of Natasha’s estrangement from Vlada. It might have profitably explored the kids’ attitudes toward the topic of Serbia’s role in the war, particularly since there appear to be nightly television debates on the topic.

The widescreen lensing of Bosnian d.p. Erol Zubcevic (“Our Everyday Life,” “Tigers”) focuses primarily on the thesps’ faces, and for the most part, they repay the intense scrutiny with subtle performances. Boris Caksiran’s costume design also reveals volumes about the characters, with the donning and eventual removal of a birthday necklace marking a significant change of attitude on Milena’s part.

Film Review: 'A Good Wife'

Reviewed online, Chicago, Jan. 20, 2016. (In Sundance Film Festival — World Cinema, competing; Gothenburg Film Festival — competing.) Running time: 95 MIN. (Original title: "Dobra zena")

Production

(Serbia-Bosnia-Herzegovina-Croatia) A This and That production in co-production with Deblokada, Cineplanet, Nukleus Film, with the support of Pokrajinski Sekretarijat za Kulturu i Javno Informisanje, Film Center Serbia, Fond za Otvoreno Drustvo, National Endowment for Democracy, Norwegian Embassy Belgrade, Fondacija za kinematografiju Sarajevo, Radio-Television Vojvodine, SEE Cinema Network. (International sales: Films Boutique, Berlin.) Produced by Snezana Penev. Executive producers, Uros Lukovac, Goran Stankovic, Milena Dzambasovic, Mirza Hamzic. Co-producers, Jasmila Zbanic, Damir Ibrahimovic, Igor Vranjkovic, Sinisa Juricic.

Crew

Directed by Mirjana Karanovic. Screenplay, Karanovic, Stevan Filipovic, Darko Lungulov. Camera (color, HD, widescreen), Erol Zubcevic; editor, Lazar Predojev; music, Dejan Pejovic; production designer, Nenad Markovic; costume designer, Boris Caksiran; sound (5.1), Zoran Maksimovic; sound designer, Pejovic.

With

Mirjana Karanovic, Boris Isakovic, Bojan Navojec, Jasna Duricic, Ksenija Marinkovic, Vlado Kerosevic, Hristina Popovic, Ermin Bravo, Andelika Simic, Olivera Viktorovic, Isidora Simijonovic, Jovan Belobrkovic, Zinaida Dedakin.
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  1. Molunat says:

    Please remove the propaganda post by jj. It belongs to a political forum, not here.

  2. jj says:

    Sounds like pure propaganda to me. Where are the movies of the Serbian civilians killed by the Bosniak and Croatian armies? Serbian civilians were kept in grain silo concentration camps in the Sarajevo vicinity, such as the Silo at Tarcin.
    Meanwhile, Serbs are often blamed for made up or exaggerated crimes.
    And the majority who died in the wars were military & militants, not civilians at all. In Bosnia-Hercegovina almost 92% of the deaths are men.
    The media was misleading throughout the war, claiming it was “mostly women and children” who died. It was most all men.
    Also, the first civilians killed in the wars were Serbs. The non-Serbs (supported by the west) got the jump on them.
    These movies just keep up the propaganda and ignore the huge ethnic cleansings, torture, and murders of Serbs – some of which were actually eye-witnessed by UN soldiers on the scene. For example, the Canadian soldiers at Medak Pocket, Croatia. They saw Croats killing civilians if they (the soldiers) tried to get closer (the Croatian soldiers were forcing the civilians to carry the loot from their homes). The Canadians soldiers took some pictures too of the butchered and burned women.
    Bosnian Muslims were also decapitating Sarajevo Serb civilians and throwing them down the Kazani gorge.

  3. imustseemovie.com says:

    Sounds interesting

    • PJ says:

      I second that. When are we going to see a movie about Operation ‘Storm’ or any others where Serbs are the victims of the war. Please do not remove our comments, it wouldn’t be fair. The movie carries a political topic and messages, so why wouldn’t it be allowed to comment on that. Unless the admin wants to censor things.

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