God Exists, Her Name Is Petrunija

God Exists, Her Name Is Petrunija is a 2019 Macedonian drama, directed by Teona Strugar Mitevska. It was selected to compete for the Golden Bear at the 69th Berlin International Film Festival, and has been selected for the 37th Torino Film Festival.

The story revolves around an anti-hero, a woman in her thirties who is unemployed and experiences an unconventional coming-of-age. The movie somehow portrays the redemption of a loser, through a feminist perspective.  

Petrunija (Zorica Nusheva) finds herself by utter chance in the middle of a crowded religious ceremony that is strictly reserved for men: a wooden cross is thrown into the river and those who catch it it will have a year of happiness and prosperity. The young woman passionately dives into the water, and manages to get the cross before any of the men. However this causes a huge scandal, since no female had ever been allowed to participate in the event, let alone win. The whole country seems united in asking Petrunija to return the cross, but she seems determined not to give up and keep it with her at all costs.

Director Teona Mitevska conveys a powerful film, as her protagonist catalyzes a battle which will overthrow the conventions of the patriarchal society in which she lives. The film was inspired by a true event that occurred in 2014, when a woman in Štip, Macedonia, was able to catch the cross tossed in the water during an orthodox ritual, stirring outrage from the local community and religious authorities.

The movie creates a very efficacious premise, portraying the sexist environment that surrounds Petrunija, showing the exasperating treatment that she faces when looking for a job and the way men try to impose their supremacy. Her message comes across without being preachy or falling into the pitfall of cliché, because this female character not only thinks outside the box, but she is flawed in many ways. When we meet her for the first time, she doesn’t seem concerned about female empowerment, her focus is elsewhere. Yet, when the whole community turns against her, she refuses to succumb.

Thus, Petrunija becomes the symbol of modernity, and through this caustic comedy — that maintains a balance between satire and realism — there is a humanizing reflection on the power and potential of symbolic gestures. Petrunija is a character that changes throughout the film and her yearn for justice allows her to become a woman aware of her rights who embodies the force of change.