DAS FRÄULEIN (Andrea Staka, 2006)

From Switzerland, Das Fräulein (top prize, Locarno) was written by three women: Andrea Staka, who also directed, Barbara Albert and Marie Kreutzer. Coincidentally, it is a film about three women: Ruza, who came to Zurich from Yugoslavia thirty years earlier, that is, before the Balkan Wars, and who now owns and runs a canteen (“The best view to have is the view one chooses”), and two members of her staff, Mila, who is older, and just-arrived Ana, who may be 22. Both also are former Yugoslavs. We find out later that Ana is dying of leukemia.
     The film opens with one of Ruza’s dreaming flashbacks: set to Balkan folk music, an idyllic scene of a hand, perhaps her father’s, at work on the land. This pre-credit sequence abruptly ends, like a dream, or perhaps a memory one doesn’t quite trust. Mila’s husband, who is driven to return with Mila to the former Yugoslavia, is busy spending money to have a new house built there for them to move into; this would mean leaving behind their two grown children. Ana isn’t sure just where she wants to be. She remarks to Ruza, “Nobody calls it Yugoslavia anymore.” Ruza still does; she has no reason not to. The film ends abruptly as one of the three women is heading back to “Yugoslavia.”
     The warm bond that develops between Ruza and Ana is the soul of this brilliant film that significantly adds to our grasp of the experience of immigrants and their ongoing connection to “homeland.” In its course, Ana asks a remarkable rhetorical question: “Do you know the feeling when you think you’re thirsty, and you stop and think and realize that what you actually feel is longing?”
     None of the women is “representative”; each is herself.

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