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FILMS Slovenia / Croatia

Ivan: Tough questions about whom we love the most

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- Slovenian director Janez Burger's fifth feature tackles tough family and social issues through the struggle of a single mother

Ivan: Tough questions about whom we love the most
Maruša Majer in Ivan

Slovenian filmmaker Janez Burger achieved international recognition in 1999 with Idle Running, which won awards at a slew of festivals, including Sarajevo, Cottbus and Trieste, after its world premiere at Karlovy Vary. Following the very arty Silent Sonata [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
in 2011 and 2014's audience-friendly crime-comedy Driving School [+see also:
trailer
interview: Maruša Majer
film profile
]
, he is back with Ivan [+see also:
trailer
interview: Janez Burger
interview: Maruša Majer
film profile
]
, a drama with thriller elements and an impressive female central character, plus potential for both theatrical distribution and the festival circuit. It recently won eight awards at the Festival of Slovenian Film in Portorose (see the news).

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As the film opens, Mara (the amazing Maruša Majer) gives birth to the titular baby, the illegitimate son of married businessman Rok (Matjaž Tribušon). But the father is nowhere to be found – Mara keeps calling, but it turns out that he has been in jail after being arrested for a white-collar crime.

Soon she manages to find him at home, telling his wife that she has had his son. Rok assures her that everything is OK and that he will come for lunch the next day. But instead of him, the starry-eyed Mara, who has dressed in her nicest clothes after making an elaborate lunch, opens the door to Rok's lawyer (Branko Šturbej) and bodyguard Bane (Leon Lučev), who beat her up and force her to sign a statement saying that Ivan is not Rok's child.

But Rok soon manages to get in touch and promises her that it was all his wife's doing; he takes Mara and Ivan on the run to Italy, where his money is stashed away.

Ivan is a film that asks many social and ethical questions that have no easy answers. Majer plays Mara with the ferocity of, say, Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves: she is obsessively in love with Rok and won't even breastfeed her son until she finally gets in touch with his father. But her intense focus quickly shifts to the child once she gets even slightly suspicious about Rok's honesty and dedication. An almost fanatical drive is the key force spurring on her character, whoever it is aimed at. 

Rok, on the other hand, seems honest in both his promises and actions, but the viewer is disinclined to trust him completely, because Mara is our hero, and he is, after all, a corrupt businessman.

The screenplay by Burger, acclaimed Slovenian author Aleš Čar, and Serbian duo Srdjan Koljević and Melina Pota Koljević puts the complex characters in ambiguous situations for the audience to consider: we root for Mara, but we can tell that she is not the clearest-thinking person and her actions might be hurting her child. Is her choice between her love for Rok and her child actually a choice, especially given that the two instincts cannot be clearly separated? 

Majer delivers a performance of a lifetime, and Marko Brdar's cinematography employs many dark shots of interiors and rainy skies that reflect the protagonist's state of mind. Composer Damir Avdić opts for atmospheric, distorted electric guitar along the lines of Neil Young's Dead Man score, infusing the film with suspense. Meanwhile, Miloš Kalusek's editing follows the script's dilemmas with clarity and, in the last act, creates a palpable tension crucial to the cathartic denouement.

Ivan is a co-production by Slovenia's Staragara and Croatia's Propeler Film. Italy's Slingshot has the international rights. 

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