EIFF – ‘God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya’ is a Work of Heavenly Proportions

Petrunya Eftimovska (Zorica Nusheva) is a rather unremarkable woman, or at least that’s what her mother would want you to think. Obsessed with her daughter’s appearance, she insists that Petrunya dress in feminine clothes and wear make-up for an upcoming job interview, and throw in a lie about her age for good measure. In her mother’s eyes, Petrunya should be skinnier and more successful, and nothing she ever does is enough. 

Just as she begins to sink under the weight of her ‘mediocrity’, Petrunya does something extraordinary. Some might even call it a divine miracle. On her way home from the (disastrous) job interview, she stumbles upon a religious ceremony. A priest is getting ready to throw a wooden crucifix into the river for a crowd of devout men to chase after. Whoever reaches the cross first is the winner; his prize the blessing of good fortune. Petrunya watches the ceremony from under the bridge, and when she spots the crucifix floating near her she dives in fully-clothed, emerging moments later with the crucifix in hand. What Petrunya doesn’t know is that her moment of glory is about to become Macedonia’s latest scandal, as the participants of the ceremony claim that she cannot win the cross because she is a woman. 

And so begins the intertwining of public, private, and religious politics. Members of the Church call Petrunya’s victory unlawful and get the police involved to retrieve the crucifix, even though it’s far from an arrestable offence. However, the more they fight to get it back, the more determined Petrunya is to keep it. It’s a fight between God’s law and the common law, with Petrunya’s own feelings and relationships thrown into the mix. On her side is journalist Slavica (Labina Mitevska) who uses the opportunity to trigger a debate about gender inequality in Macedonia. She interviews everyone she meets, and their responses range from naming Petrunya “Lucifer in the flesh” to posing the question “What if God were a woman?”

The film’s title christens her ‘God’, and the cinematography treats her as such. Almost like a holy Renaissance painting, Petrunya is framed in the centre of nearly all shots she appears in, demanding the audience’s undivided attention. She isn’t the type of person to put herself in the spotlight, but the camera ensures that she basks in it. It’s a relatively subtle gesture in a film that’s full of overt religious references, but it’s powerful and moving nonetheless. 

Nusheva shines in her debut leading role with a masterly performance. Her Petrunya is relatable and easy to root for; she’s unassuming but has a fiery streak that grows stronger as the story progresses. Mitevska’s hard-headed but ardent journalist Slavica has a dry wit that makes the film effortlessly funny in places. The blend of humour and drama is pitch-perfect, and neither aspect is ever pushed too far even in the face of the story’s eccentricity. 

God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya is an astonishing exploration of gender discrimination in all spheres, public or private, religious or secular. It is deeply political but personal too, and Petrunya’s emotional journey is empowering. Petrunya Eftimovska is a remarkable woman, no matter what anyone says.

 

by Holly Weaver

Holly Weaver is currently studying French and Spanish at the University of Leeds, and has spent her year abroad studying film in Montréal. She is enraptured by pre-1960s cinema and some of her favourite films include Singin’ in the RainCity Lights and The Crime of Monsieur Lange. You can find her tweeting and letterboxd’ing at @drivermiller.

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