Int’l Critics Line: Croatia’s Oscar Submission ‘Tereza37’

A woman makes a dramatic life change in Tereza37, the official International Feature Film Oscar entry from Croatia. Screenwriter Lana Barić plays married Tereza (37), who has been going the traditional route to try for a baby for years without success. She considers other options when her gynecologist jokes she should try to conceive with a different partner.

Taking the suggestion seriously, Tereza starts having casual sex with strangers in an attempt to get pregnant while her husband Marko (Leon Lučev) is away — although one neighbor, Nikola (Dragan Mićanović), would like to take the relationship further.

The results veer between darkly funny, disturbing and thought-provoking in this taboo-busting drama directed by Danilo Šerbedžija, whose debut, 72 Days, was also selected to represent Croatia at the Academy Awards in 2010. 

The setting is Split, a conservative environment despite being a large city. It’s an environment that can be stifling for anyone who dares question marital — and maternal — conventions. Tereza is surrounded by traditional family and friends who simply expect her to become a mother.

Outwardly, Tereza is equally conventional, quietly going about her daily business with a solemn face and plain dress. While she is loath to speak about it, it’s clear that four miscarriages have taken their toll. She never articulates her decision to sleep with other men, whether to a friend, or to herself, which adds intrigue for the audience. It also puts the onus on Barić’s physical performance, and she delivers, whether hunching up her body or surveying the world with her dejected eyes. The journey she goes on is subtle: this is a portrait of an ordinary woman quietly, matter-of-factly challenging a patriarchal establishment by using men for sex.

In turn, the feature itself challenges filmic conventions, showing blood-stained sheets and a real woman’s body in the same matter-of-fact manner. It also explores the dangers of threatened masculinity in one horrifying, unforgettable scene. 

But Tereza37’s gender politics never seem pointed: they are naturally woven into the fabric of an absorbing, character-driven drama with compelling, unshowy performances. It’s also a striking screenwriting debut for actress Barić, a talent to watch whose upcoming film, Eve After The Fall, will see her turning director.

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