An awkward dinner scene introduces the heavily repressed family unit of Quit Staring at My Plate, Hana Jušić’s feature screened at the Venice Days section of the 73rd Venice Film Festival. Father (Niksa Butijer) is an authoritarian and unappealing patriarch. He shouts, threatens, and bullies everyone, including his mentally disabled son for not being able to get a job. His heavily repressed wife (Arijana Culina) is a disinterested mother who ignores everything and keeps to herself; Marijana (Mia Petricevic), the 24-year-old daughter, dares to challenge his father’s authority by giving him attitude.
None of these characters will become any more appealing than they appear to be in this first significant sequence throughout the course of the movie. However, the structure of the family will drastically change, especially as far as Marijana is concerned; she will become the lead character in the film after her father suffers a stroke that leaves him incapacitated and vegetating on his bed.
She becomes her family’s sole breadwinner: she gains newfound liberties, but only on the surface, while she still remains trapped in her stuffy family environment. While she initially appears to look as if she almost enjoys taking on new responsibilities, a subsequent big fight with her mother leads her to vent out her frustration by having sex with two strangers. This leads to an awakening: maybe there’s a whole new world outside the one she has known all her life. Despite her mother’s pleas, she decides to move to Zagreb. But has she broken away from the shackles of her family?
Jusic’s film is a naturalistic drama that recalls, like other films of its kind, the literary works of Emile Zola, in which individuals are trapped in a series of preset patterns – whether genetic, political, etc. – that are beyond their control. These individuals are also openly vulnerable to the unexpected, which are initiated not only in the outside world but within themselves. The father has a stroke that suddenly shatters his authority in the family and leaves him totally dependant on those he claimed to dominate. The son’s fate was preset by his mental condition. Marijana has potential to break away, but she is still held down by her family and the things she believes to be her responsibility. Interestingly, her life only changes following encounters with unexpected physical events: one of them, unsolicited, her father’s stroke; the other one, solicited, wild consensual outdoor sex with two men.
The film is mired in a feeling of ambivalence that makes it frustrating. Quit Staring at My Plate is no fun movie, and the director never appears to want to fool the viewer into thinking that it could ever be a typical film about redemption, or a coming-of-age of sorts. The dry sense of humour further steers the film away from a type of traditional connection or interaction with the viewer. All this does indeed replicate the staleness of the protagonist’s existence: it is far committed to a representation of the feelings and emotions felt by its protagonist than to establishing a conventional connection with the spectator for a passive viewing experience.
Though Quit Staring at My Plate shows elements of feminist influence, especially in its representation of the family unity as one dominated by a patriarchal figure at the beginning, it fails to make a point that goes beyond that of a more universal state of repression. There have been several films telling similar stories as Jusic’s film in the past, and Quit Staring at My Plate cannot be considered a feminist counterpart to a typically male-dominated type of cinema narrative. But you can’t fault this or any other film on these grounds. If Quit Staring at My Plate comes across as excessively indifferent it is because it fails to reveal moments of beauty in its collective ugliness, or at the very least, to allow the viewer to indulge in its perversions. – ★★★
NE GLEDAJ MI U PIJAT | 2016, Croatia / Denmark | Drama | Directed by – Hana Jusic / Produced by – Maria Møller Christoffersen, Peter Hyldahl, Morten Kjems Juhl, Ankica Juric Tilic, Roar Skau Olsen / Written by – Hana Jusic / Music by – Hrvoje Niksic / Cinematography by – Jana Plecas / Editing by – Jan Klemesche / Starring – Mia Petricevic, Miksa Butijer, Arijana Culina, Zlatko Buric | Running time: 105 mins.