- Winner of Clermont-Ferrand's Grand Prix, Katarina Rešek Kukla's short revolves around three tomboyish young women, all children of immigrants from Ex-Yugoslavia
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The Balkans are a peculiar region. Situated somewhere between the progressive Europe and the traditional/conservative — to the point of fundamentalism — Middle East, people from the area always exhibited an identity crisis due to being perpetually "in the middle" of these two worlds. In Sisters, Katarina Kukla explores an aspect of this problem by focusing on the issues women who want to break free from the chains of patriarchy experience in present-day Slovenia.
The story revolves around three modern-day "virđinas” (sworn virgins, tomboyish young women) Sina, Mihrije and Jasna, all children of immigrants from Ex-Yugoslavia. They are living in a small traditional city in Slovenia, though their lifestyle is nothing like it: they wear baggy clothes, tape their breasts to hide their femininity, train in kickboxing and get regularly into fistfights with men, particularly those who seem eager to offend them for being so different. Above all, they live by their own "ten commandments": rules that set them completely apart from what is considered “normal” in the region for women their age.
When they witness a man beating a woman (who appears to be his girlfriend) in the middle of the street, the trio looks at it as a blueprint for all romantic relationships: never a choice — which woman would be with a man who beats her in the middle of the street? — but a sheer construct enforced by a society that expects all women to find and marry a man, even if he acts violently.
Considering that their attitude marginalizes them, the protagonists are forced to become warriors in order to survive. They train in kickboxing every day and take good care of their body, avoiding alcohol and doing hard drugs, a stance that alienates them from their peers even more, since in the Balkans it is common for both young and old people to drink a lot, and drugs are quite easy to find.
Sisters is a polemical film. Katarina Kukla clearly holds a grudge against the patriarchy (and the ways it limits women) as well as the mentality of the small town (which does not allow any effort for change) and men (who are presented in the film as the main source of all the issues faced by the titular sisters). The three girls embody this line of thinking, though the group’s leader Sina is more intently set on their “war against the world”, frequently pulling the other two with her in actual fights against men. Kukla’s implemented polemic approach is mirrored directly in Sina’s behaviour.
Peter Paunovic's camera realistically captures the small Balkan city in mostly grey tones, which are intensified by the almost always cloudy sky. That the sun is only shining when the three girls are alone emphasizes the general idea of the film: their relationship being the sole source of light in an otherwise rather dark environment.
Katarina Kukla’s background in directing music videos is visible in a number of scenes with intense colours (mostly red hues, neon lighting) and rather frantic editing, both approaches humming on the aesthetics of the medium. The loud Balkan soundtrack (composed by Kukla herself) highlights the “in the middle”-position mentioned in the beginning of this text, through combining both electronic and oriental influences.
Sisters, which won Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival's Grand Prix, quite eloquently highlights Kukla’s grudge against the patriarchal, male-dominated societies — rightfully so. The need to change the rules that support this overall mentality that trivializes women (recognising them solely through their roles on the side of men as girlfriends, wives, mothers to their sons) is emitted from every action and word of her heroines, and in every frame of her mostly bleak and pessimistic film.
(The full review is available here).
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