FINE DEAD GIRLS

Director: Dalibor Matanić
Year: 2002
Country: Croatia

Fine Dead Girls marks my return not only to European cinema, but specifically to that of the former Yugoslav republics. Born from violent uprising in the 1990s, the region last appeared on this blog in my entry for Bosnia & HerzegovinaNo Man’s Land. But while that film focused on the war directly, Fine Dead Girls deals with the conflict in a more abstract way – building a disturbing portrait of a country that has been warped and corrupted by a shared nightmare.

The film follows Iva and Marija, a young lesbian couple moving into a new apartment building in a rundown part of Zagreb, the Croatian capital. Escaping their respective intolerant parents, the two women hope to find self-sufficiency and start a new life together.

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Iva and Marija are introduced as charming and sympathetic, but painfully naïve.

However, they are forced to keep their relationship a secret from their new landlady – the highly conservative and incredibly nosy Olga. Olga is initially friendly, and even tries to set Iva up with her son, Daniel. But when Iva naturally rejects her efforts, Olga grows more and more suspicious of her new tenants. Determined to find the truth, she launches an investigation that threatens not only the couple’s privacy, but their lives.

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Olga becomes obsessed with exposing Iva and Marija, while her nervous husband urges acceptance.

The building’s other tenants are a diverse and unsettling bunch, meant to represent the madness and hypocrisy of post-war Croatian society. There’s a volatile ex-soldier who plays loud martial music all through the night. An aging widower keeps his wife’s corpse preserved in her armchair. A shady doctor in the upstairs apartment performs illegal abortions for the local women – and his patients include both prostitutes and nuns. Each tenant harbours their own secrets, but ultimately it is Iva and Marija who become the outcasts.

Fine Dead Girls is a chilling story about a community where everyone has something to hide, and how they scapegoat their most vulnerable members to assuage their own guilt. On this blog I’ve seen similar stories play out in settings as varied as Burkina Faso and the Australian Outback, but never in a way quite as harrowing as this. Fine Young Girls contains cruelty, kidnapping, rape, and murder, and handles its provocative subject matter in a way that is stark and unapologetic. Over its mere 77 minutes, the film ratchets up the aggression and alienation that Iva and Marija face, and culminates in a final outburst of violence that can be predicted long in advance, but is no less impactful when it finally arrives.

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