Shameful secrets block mother-daughter relations in sluggish meller “Grbavica,” a debut feature from shorts and docu-maker Jasmila Zbanic. Central perf by Mirjana Karanovic (“When Father Was Away on Business,” “Underground”) is instantly endearing. Unfortunately, film coasts on thesp’s ability to evoke sympathy and leaves her stranded in this yarn that’s all setup and little payoff. Fests will want to take a look, but commercial cinematic prospects seem iffy. Pic will find ample opportunities on Euro tube.
Single mother Esma (Karanovic) frequents a woman’s support group in Sarajevo. While the women are told by the social worker to talk about their pain, Esma keeps her mouth zipped, turning up only on days when financial support is dished out. To make ends meet, Esma takes a waitress job at a nightclub run by gangster Saran (Bogdan Diklic).
No matter how innocuous the source, every potential sign of violence or sex shows Esma operating on an emotional hair trigger. Also in the business of pushing Esma’s buttons is feisty teenage tomboy daughter Sara (an impressive Luna Mijovic).
Sara has been encouraged by her mother to believe her father was a Bosnian war hero. However, when Sara’s school offers to take the offspring of war heroes on a field trip for free, the adolescent girl needs documentation.
As Sara’s sexual awakening is aroused by gun-toting, fellow student Samir (Kenan Catic), Esma also catches the eye of rugged nightclub bouncer Pelda (Leon Lucev). While Pelda attempts to romance Esma, she continues to keep him at arm’s length. However, when Sara sees Pelda drop her mother off after work, the young girl fears that her mother will leave her.
As a character study, pic initially intrigues but depends too heavily on thesps’ abilities to carry the day. Dramatic tension is cranked up at the 11th hour and a pivotal plot point is clumsily rushed through. Suddenly, from little happening, everything occurs at once and the effect muffles overall dramatic impact. Esma’s big secret, divulged in all press materials, barely has time to resonate.
All perfs are convincing and Zbanic’s helming is clean, uncomplicated and pro. Script difficulties suggest pic may have benefited from being slightly longer, for clarity’s sake. Lensing is easy on the eye and all other tech credits do the job. Title refers to the area of Sarajevo where Esma and Sara live.