Review: My Last Year as a Loser
by Vladan Petkovic
- Urša Menart's feature debut is, paradoxically, a film about an interesting character that does not manage to be interesting itself
The big winner at Slovenia’s national Vesna Awards (see the news), picking up Best Film, Screenplay and Supporting Actress for Živa Selan, My Last Year as a Loser [+see also:
film profile], the feature debut by writer-director Urša Menart, is a film that manages to be both interesting and consistent in the depiction of its stubborn hero, but is rarely engaging for the viewer owing to the constant repetition of its central topic.
Špela (Eva Jesenovec, dedicated and precise in her first feature role) is a 29-year-old Art History graduate struggling to find a job, so she works part-time as an art gallery receptionist, a swimming pool lifeguard and a bartender.
Meanwhile, all of her closest friends have moved abroad, and her live-in computer-expert boyfriend (Teo Rižnar) has just got an offer from Silicon Valley. As he flies off to San Francisco and the full-time gallery job she had her eye on falls into someone else's lap, Špela ends up back at her parents' place, sleeping on the couch.
She makes friends with a petty teenage weed dealer from her parents' building, and whiles away the nights with her bartending colleague Suzi (the indeed luminous Selan) and her crew, all the time refusing to move away from Slovenia. To Špela, this is an easy way out and a sign of cowardice: one should stay and fight for a better society.
Špela is a very consistent character: she is bespectacled, with long, straight hair, and wears buttoned-up flowery dresses or hoodies and jeans that tell of her refusal to grow up, despite her grand political statements. The visual identity of the film, created by DoP Darko Herič and production designer Marco Juratovec, fits the character and her storyline perfectly, with its strong, clear colours (red, blue and green dominate the film), and depicts a simple world – but a world that is by no means gentle. This is the way Špela sees it, and an episode with her bicycle getting stolen is emblematic of this theme, and very well executed.
It is to Menart's credit that she did not take the predictable route of transforming her hero from an "ugly duckling" into a "beautiful swan", although there was plenty of opportunity for that: at one point, Špela ends up having a one-night stand with a handsome, successful thirty-something who clearly wants to continue the relationship.
However, the screenplay is riddled with repetitions. Here we have a paradox of sorts: it is interesting that our hero is unalterable and almost monolithic in her views and stubbornness, so it makes sense that she would not grow as a character over the course of the film, which is directly opposite to what most filmmakers would have had her do. But on the other hand, this fact that is interesting in itself does not make for an engaging watch – throughout the movie, we are getting one and the same message conveyed via various situations that the hero ends up in.
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