Andrea Staka’s long-awaited follow-up to her award-winning 2006 drama, “Fraulein,” is similarly concerned with issues of displacement and belonging, though in “Cure — The Life of Another,” she pairs these feelings with adolescent uncertainty. Handsomely lensed and well acted, the film tells of a Swiss-raised Croatian teen relocated to Dubrovnik shortly after the siege, who blurs the boundaries between her life and that of her dead friend. Hallucinatory elements of the “Black Swan” variety crop up along with doppelganger motifs, contributing to an overall sensation that the pic’s underdeveloped side characters are more intriguing than the storyline. A respectable fest life is likely.
After her parents’ divorce, Linda (Sylvie Marinkovic) moves with her Croatian doctor father, Nino (Leon Lucev), from the coddled security of Switzerland to post-siege Dubrovnik in 1993. It’s not an easy shift, and Linda feels fortunate to have a friend in Eta (Lucia Radulovic), a tough-acting classmate who knows all the angles. Worldly-wise Eta grew up faster than Linda, and she enjoys feeling more mature than her less experienced peer.
On a hot summer day, the two climb to the forests above the city, unfazed by warnings of leftover mines. Eta goads Linda into telling her about nonexistent sexual experiences; Linda kisses her, leading Eta to taunt her friend for being a virgin. Uncertain of her feelings, Linda pushes Eta, who tumbles off the precipice, her lifeless body broken on the rocks below.
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Linda is at a loss what to do. She goes to Eta’s home, where her dead pal’s mother, Marija (Marija Skaricic), and grandmother (Mirjana Karanovic) are typical of the fragmented, matriarchal families in the area, nursing psychological wounds in the vacuum left by husbands and fathers killed during the war. Eta’s death widens that chasm even more, so Linda takes her place, to the point where the grandmother behaves as if Linda really is her grandchild, and Marija’s inexpressible feelings of rage, grief and yearning manifest themselves in unexpected ways.
From the moment of Eta’s death, Linda imagines her friend’s ghost berating her, especially as Linda assumes more and more of Eta’s life, including a hesitant relationship with the dead girl’s older b.f., Ivo (Franjo Dijak), a weary, cool ex-soldier who toys with the young woman. The script offers glimpses of depth with all these characters, yet becomes subsumed by the less interesting doppelganger element, and scenes of an imagined Eta provoking Linda carries an unwelcome whiff of teen ghost movies.
Far more intriguing are the ideas beneath the surface, such as comparisons between Linda’s male-centric family and Eta’s female-centric one; also, Marija’s complex character cries out for more scenes. “Cure” is Croatian for “girls” or “brats,” and the deliberately ambiguous title demands that audiences question its meaning — is there a cure? Cure for what, exactly? The pic is strongest at conveying the confused thoughts and desires of a teen transplanted to poisoned territory, but the larger issues it strives to capture often escape its grasp.
Performances are another strong suit: Newcomer Marinkovic is a preternatural beauty whose physical maturity, appropriately, thinly masks Linda’s adolescent confusion. Frequent shots of her against bare walls heighten the sense of insecurity and loneliness. Karanovic and Skaricic, both featured in “Fraulein,” hint at complexities only sketchily written into the script.
Visuals by Martin Gschlacht, Jessica Hausner’s regular d.p., meaningfully play off contrasts between sunny exteriors — Dubrovnik’s beauty invariably made outsiders question how war could come to such an idyllic spot — and darkened rooms whose inhabitants are cast in an inescapable gloom. The often intrusive soundscape is intermittently effective, at times pushing the supernatural element too forcefully.