Wed. Feb 26th, 2020

AFI FEST Review: ‘Ivana the Terrible’

Courtesy of Microfilm

It’s sometimes easy to forget that film is an art form.  And, as with any art, the enjoyment or quality of a movie is subjective.  Ivana the Terrible, a film from writer/director/star Ivana Mladenovic, challenges the standard expectation of film as a narrative, storytelling format.  Instead, her film blurs the lines between cinema verite and fiction by being based on real events and starring the real-life participants instead of actors.  It seems interesting and certainly has been done before, most notably Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris, which starred the real-life men who thwarted a terrorist attack on a French train in 2015.  But, unlike that film, Ivana the Terrible does not tell a traditional story, does not follow any story arc or present any real character development.  It simply is a re-enactment of a time in her life, for better or worse. 

The most interesting part of this film is the setting.  Ivana recreates her return to her hometown in Serbia, which sits on the border with Romania.  She had left when she was 17 to pursue an acting career and returns at 35 after finding success in Bucharest, the capital of Romania.  There are many references to the strained relationship and colorful history of the two countries, and I wish there had been more of an exploration of that.  Instead, the film simply follows Ivana as she bickers with her parents, hangs out with her friends and preens for attention.   

Her family and friends, none of whom are professional actors, are all quite enjoyable to watch.  Filmed on location in her hometown, the best parts of the film are the scenes that follow Ivana around town and introduce us to the locals.  If you look at it more as a travelogue, you will probably take more away from it than you would if you were looking for a character study or story. 

No matter what Mladenovic was trying to accomplish with Ivana the Terrible, it fell flat with me as a narrative film.  But some may enjoy its simple realism and its laid back and contrary style of filmmaking.


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