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God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya review
A North Macedonian woman dares to defy tradition.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Teona Strugar Mitevska

Starring: Zorica Nusheva, Labina Mitevska, Simeon Moni Damevski, Suad Begovski, Stefan Vujisic, Violeta Shapkovska

God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya poster

Although on paper North Macedonia is committed to gender equality (via the Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1994- CEDAW), statistical evidence tells a different story. Governmental positions held by women are dependent on electoral quotas and women are largely underrepresented in executive and decision-making positions (all of this from What is more damning is that nearly half the female population of North Macedonia have experienced domestic violence at the hands of an intimate partner: suggesting that the hopeful ideologies of the CEDAW remain far removed from the common day patriarchy of the country, where the indications are that women have a second-class citizen lack of status.

God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya review

This is certainly the case in Teona Strugar Mitevska’s (with script support from Elma Tataragic) God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya, which sees the titular character repressed by the deeply conservative society of small-town North Macedonia. Petrunya (Zorica Nusheva - fantastic) is overqualified and unemployed, she lives with her parents, and her mother barely disguises her frustration at Petrunya’s unmarried status (a circumstance which the film implies is partly due to Petrunya not conforming to the sort of limited hegemony her basic-bloke peers respond to, but mainly due to the grown woman being stubbornly, and rightfully, self-sufficient). Petrunya’s aunty gets her an interview for some so-so admin job, wherein the male interviewer, this balding piece of shit in a cheap AF suit, makes sexual advances towards Petrunya before humiliating her. Why? Simply because he, and other men like him, can, Mitevska implies.

God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya review

So, it’s no wonder that the obstinate and proud Petrunya DGAF when she is party to an annual pseudo-religious steeplechase wherein the church throws a crucifix into the river for the local men to scramble and retrieve for kudos (in fairness, it does sound amazing). Mitevska frames this event with pointed symbolism. On the bridge above are the patriarchal denizens of the church, chanting and burning incense in their heavy robes. Below are the aggressively braying working-class men of the village, jostling for status with their tops off, and completely unspiritual. In-between, pushed to the side is our heroine, watching the unedifying spectacle with a jaundiced eye. She jumps into the water herself and only goes and grabs the cross!

God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya review

This causes all manner of shit, a conflict which dominates the rest of the film. It’s a delicious irony how ecclesiastical law states that the person who retrieves the cross is the winner, yet tradition dictates that only men can partake in this competition: two ridiculous decrees contradicting each other’s silliness. Soon after local news announces that competition winner Petrunya ‘is on the loose’, she is arrested, the men riot, and the higher echelons of the Macedonian Orthodox Church are canvassed. It would be funny, if not for the fact that, in contrast to the knockabout tones of the first act, Mitevska’s film takes a darker turn when (just like Someone Else who we may associate with a cross, eh?) Petrunya is persecuted and vilified. At the halfway mark, God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya becomes a Kafkaesque scenario of repetitive, crushing absurdity. For some audiences, perhaps the tonal shift may not make good on the sprightly, colourful tones of the first act, but for the real life Petrunyas anything less than this nightmare representation would be wholly disingenuous.

God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya is in US cinemas and virtual cinemas now. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.

2021 movie reviews