Director: Andrea Staka

We all have the instinctive urge to escape. Whether it’s to travel to exotic locations for vacation or start over in a brand new place, there’s something undeniably irresistible and inherently human about wanting to get away to try something new, not only to see how life is lived elsewhere but to see who we become in another setting. Although we can neither escape our problems nor our true nature, the desire to hit “reset” is one that exists at all levels, ranging from just wanting to clear your head from the daily grind and lie in the sun or at its most urgent, needing to relocate permanently due to work, hardship or in the case of the main characters in writer/director Andrea Staka’s award winning feature film debut Fraulein, to leave political turmoil and war behind.

As the film begins, we meet the young, attractive, free-spirited Ana (Marja Skaricic) who arrives in Zurich from Bosnia. Although she’s survived the war, the tragedies of the past seem to dance precariously in her eyes, never to be forgotten, even as she dances as quickly as she can to pulse-pounding electronica blasting over the speakers in the city’s clubs, distracting herself with one-night stands until her secrets start to unravel like a piece of yarn from her beaten old sweater.

Everything about Ana seems temporary and transient but after she impulsively accepts a job working in a local cafeteria, her life becomes intertwined by two elder coworkers, including Jovic, an intelligent Croatian immigrant (Mila Ljubica) still trying to decide in which country she hopes to spend her remaining years, and Ruza (Mirjana Karanovic), the strict cafeteria owner who, like Ana, had twenty-five years earlier abandoned her native Yugoslavia when she was just twenty-two.

Initially resistant to Ana’s overtures of friendship, most likely because she reminds her of the homeland she’d prefer to forget, the indifferent Ruza experiences a change of heart as she starts to recognize the woman she once had been, most notably in a gorgeous metaphorical scene where she, much like Ana, begins to dance when surprised by an impromptu birthday celebration.

Although a solemn air hangs over Staka’s picture from the start especially considering the revelation of one particularly heartrending shock early on, Fraulein manages to challenge both a typical cross-generational female bonding structure as well as resist, much like the determined Ruza, any urge to journey into false nostalgia or fall in step with what very well could have been a tearjerker paradigm. However, this emphasis on authenticity throughout no doubt owes much to the care of first time feature director and award winning short Swiss filmmaker Andrea Staka, a former photographer and visual arts student, who drew from her own background as the daughter of two exiled Yugoslavian parents.

With remarkable performances that seem all the more riveting when one realizes that neither lead actress spoke German and instead had to learn their dialogue phonetically as explained by Jay Weissberg in Variety, this award winning foreign favorite which played as an Official Selection at both the Sundance and Tribeca Film Festival, has since been released to discerning film lovers via Film Movement’s prestigious DVD-of-the-month club.