Unwanted Pregnancies By Vladimir Cvetkovic Sever

in 5th Wiesbaden Festival of Central and Eastern European Film - goEast

by Vladimir Cvetkovic Sever

Two classical character tropes end up being rather thoroughly deconstructed in Beneath Her Window , even though the movie appears to work at a crowd-pleasing level of a made-for-TV production. (The film was shot digitally in 2003, and has received a cinema distribution; writer/director Metod Pevec, an accomplished Slovenian actor, debuted in 1995 with Carmen.) In telling his story of a dance teacher who’s forced to re-evaluate her life at the threshold of her thirtieth birthday, Pevec micromanages a portrayal of issues that seem universal. And yet, they bear the unmistakeable imprint of their time and place – of modern-day Slovenia, situated right on the European North-South and East-West divide, where tradition and modernity, emancipation and male domination meet.

Dusa (Polona Juh) is in a dead-end relationship that seems to be sapping her energy and self-esteem. Her lover, a veterinarian, can’t have children with his wife, so he finds sexual respite in his infrequent flings with Dusa; but he baulks at the mere thought that there could be anything more to them. Yet Dusa, who is accomplished at her job, and financially independent, stoically accepts his attitude. After all, the other men in her life are just as useless. Her father has run away to India back when she was little, and is now returning to Slovenia to die; the only legacy he has for Dusa is a live cobra snake. Her next-door neighbour is a middle aged, pot-bellied skirt-chaser, an older version of her own lover. Her only male friend is a disembodied voice of a phone-service astrologer, who keeps hope simmering in Dusa’s heart (“dusa” means “soul”), while offering no better outlet for her repressed emotions than the horoscope chart. This single diagram of longing for a revivifying change dominates Dusa’s privacy even visually: her kitchen tabletop has been turned into a ready-to-use chart, giving prophetic attributes to the coffee mugs and cereal bowls of her lonely daily existence.

But nothing really gets resolved: Dusa doesn’t even ask her veterinarian lover for help with the snake (itself a long-standing Eastern symbol of spiritual reawakening), and it’s one of her mother’s many boyfriends who comes in to “resolve” the situation by killing the cobra. Dusa is very much on the way to becoming a younger version of her mother, single, and crushed inside, but bravely soldiering on. Her outward urban assertiveness belies a deep-set, unacknowledged resignation to defeat. Dusa comes to represent the paradox that defines the transitional feminine existence in the Slovenia of today.

Then Dusa finds out that she’s pregnant. Almost simultaneously, she realises that she’s being stalked. The two events tug at her inner tensions in opposing directions – the former reasserting her as a loser, as not even the long-desired child can make her lover bind himself to her; the latter helping her assert herself as a dominant personality in her own life, as she finds out an inner reserve of strength when faced with an outright threat. She finds out who the stalker is – it’s a shy, withdrawn young man – and starts treating him brusquely, in a manner advocated by feminist empowerment. But the longed-for resolution to her inner conflict won’t come that way.

The stalker’s shyness derives from societal repression of his sexuality at the very outset of puberty. He’s been turned into a harmless voyeur with seemingly no friends of his own age, finding only grudging solace in the trips he takes with his ornithologist grandfather to a swampland in search for the moorhen – a bird as elusive as his emotional fulfilment. It is here that Pevec makes a decision that defines his film as a romantic comedy: had the stalker been a brutal man, and not a kid who doesn’t know how to express his romantic longing, the film could easily have turned into a gritty drama about the outward pressures still faced by women in the region. But precisely by having his storyline be a romcom, Pevec avoids such simple antagonism, and allows his characters to mature and grow: this way, Dusa will slowly realise that her unwanted pregnancy and unwanted stalking can solve each other neatly. The stalker’s outwardly transgressive behavior empowers Dusa to finally break up with her lover, and thus escape from the much more common, and unsanctioned, transgressions of non-commitment.

Of course, such a resolution can be termed a wish-fulfilling construct on the filmmaker’s part – and it is crowd-pleasingly clean, to be sure. Yet, in this way, Pevec manages to release his unlikely couple (and his emotionally-invested audience, perhaps) from the bonds of individual repressions, borne out of a string of minutely observed inner conflicts and almost intangible social influences – and elucidate two all-too-common gender-based deviances from a fresh and valid perspective.