Marija: The immigration experience as seen through the blue eyes of a modern-day Valkyrie
by Muriel Del Don
- LOCARNO 2016: The debut film from Swiss director Michael Koch is an uncompromising portrait of a woman prepared to go to any lengths to win her longed-for independence
Marija is a young Ukrainian woman who gets by thanks to her job as a cleaner in a Dortmund hostel. She dreams of opening a hair salon, and so, every month, she sets aside a little of her salary, hidden in a secret place in her dilapidated apartment. When the manageress decides to sack her, it looks like Marija’s dream has been shattered. She is forced to look for an exit, and not necessarily a legal one, from a situation that is becoming darker by the moment. Both Marija’s body and her emotions seem to freeze as she prepares to make her move; like an instrument of war, she is ready to sacrifice herself for her mission.
In Marija [+see also:
interview: Michael Koch
film profile], his first full-length feature, presented in the official competition of the 69th Locarno International Film Festival, Michael Koch has chosen to explore the delicate and timely subject of immigration. The film portrays a feminine experience of immigration, with Marija (an incredible Margarita Breitkreiz) as our guide; this young woman with the physique of a warrior who has decided to escape her native Ukraine and head for an imaginary (and imagined) Germany, where anything seems possible. The heroine of Koch’s film is not, however, held sway by a naive and wispy view of the world. She appears driven by a mysterious force that makes her immune to pain and impervious to emotion. Her inner world remains an impenetrable mystery to the audience. What could drive Marija to reject a man who seems to love her, or, at least, to value her? How far is she willing to go to achieve her dream of independence?
Michael Koch offers us just one perspective on immigration, understood as a conscious choice, in which personal force of will plays a deciding role. In its portrayal of a strong, decidedly determined woman, it’s worlds apart from the miserable clichés served up by so many other films. The Swiss director’s camera literally stalks his heroine, who seems trapped in a world that has no time for her; an oblivious world without care for human suffering. Marija decides to break through the chains that are keeping her captive - but at what price? What makes Marija so fascinating is the very ambivalence of her character: cold, but highly attractive; calculating, but also very human. Marija is capable of holding her own in a world dominated by men while keeping her own identity intact, with courage and an icy determination. The only man who seems interested in helping her, portrayed by an excellent Georg Friedrich, is incapable of dissuading her from her ultimate goal. His weary demeanour and apparent composure provide a contrast to Marija’s elegant beauty and intense, passionate gaze.
Michael Koch offers us to a frank and (magnificently) brutal portrait of world that is very often overlooked: a depended-upon workforce driven to sell its own body to the highest bidder, as if humanity was a luxury it could no longer afford. A aesthetically powerful debut that promises some intriguing surprises.
(Translated from Italian)