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« "Get Out" to Be Considered Comedy at Globes | Main | Happy 50th to Underappreciated Steve Zahn »
Monday
Nov132017

Interview: Dir. Hana Jusic on How a Best Actress Winner Inspired Croatian Oscar Submission 'Quit Staring at My Plate'

By Jose Solís

Marijana, the heroine of Quit Staring at My Plate, doesn’t know she’s allowed a life away from her controlling family. Even though she has a full time job, and is of age, she gives her mother all her wages, spends more than half the day working, and dutifully sits at the dinner table as her parents and unemployed brother criticize her lifestyle. Then one day Marijana finds a sidejob that takes her the furthest she’s been from home in a very long time, and her many awakenings begin. Anchored by a breakthrough performance by Mia Petricevic, the film plays like a moral fable seen through an unsentimental lens. In her first feature film, director Hana Jusic proves that not only does she have an eye for talent (the story of how she found Mia is film worthy) but she also has the kind of confidence in her voice that the world craves. I spoke to Husic about creating Marijana and how two Oscar winning performances inspired the world of her film.  

Read the interview after the jump. 

JOSE: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a heroine like Marijana, so can you talk about why you wrote her?

HANA JUSIC: The whole movie was inspired by the idea of Marijana, I wanted to have a female character who wasn’t limited by the roles men give to her. I was inspired by characters Hilary Swank played in the early 2000s in Million Dollar Baby and Boys Don’t Cry, I watched both movies in high school and was so impressed by her performances. She made me want to create a female character with strength.

JOSE: I’d love to hear more about how American films shaped who you wanted to become as an artist.

HANA JUSIC: Croatia is so different from the US and yet all our minds are molded by American films. It’s strange to think that rather than be inspired by Croatian reality to create my character, I used American films. I was a huge movie buff, throughout my puberty I learned about life from US cinema. Independent films from the late 90s were very important to me, they had great stories and shaped my whole generation.

The structure of the film reminded me of a fairy tale, Marijana is like Cinderella living with her evil mother and brother, did fairy tales inspire you in any way?

This is very interesting, I hadn’t thought about it. Since you mention Cinderella, she’s actually my favorite character in fairy tales, maybe Marijana came from there. I was interested in making Marijana a flawed character, not a victim, but someone who is more like her family than she seems at first glance. I really wanted to make her somebody who is a product of her own family and not this angelic creature trapped in a terrible world.

You give Marijana sexual agency and allow her to discover the joys of sex. This gets her in trouble eventually, because we’re all so puritanical, but why was it important for you to show this side of her?

This was an extremely important issue for me. Many women who’ve watched the film talk to me about the scene where Marijana has sex with several men at once and called it “the rape scene,” I didn’t want this to be seen as rape. In this patriarchal society women aren’t supposed to have any desire for sex, they’re just supposed to be very appealing sexually, but only can have sex for the sake of men. If women choose to show desire they’re called sluts. Men want women to look like sluts, but not to have the urge. Marijana is out of the system, she’s not a pretty girl wearing pretty clothes, she doesn’t seduce the men, she uses them because she wants to have sex. Whether she sleeps with one or three doesn’t change anything.

Do you think there is a lack of characters like Marijana in popular culture?

I don’t have a problem with women being “slutty,” those terms come from men. I wanted to have a character who was similar to Uma Thurman’s in Kill Bill, Marijana is not Beatrix Kiddo, but I wanted a character you could relate to in such a way she empowered women. She’s a bit androgynous in a way, I wanted to make Marijana an action hero without any action.

Can you talk about finding Mia Petricevic and working with her to create Marijana?

I had Marijana in my head for such a long time and was looking for something specific, so I looked for actresses in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia because we share the same language. I also thought about casting a non-professional, and then I found Mia in a beach. I saw her and knew it was Marijana, I approached her and asked her to come to a casting. She said she had never wanted to act, but she was great, so I gave her the screenplay and she said it was easy for her to understand Marijana. We prepared for a year, because I didn’t want Mia to get scared before the shoot. Near the beginning of the shoot, she and the other actors lived together cause we wanted them to become familiar with each other. Finding Mia was a stroke of luck.

Which other strong female characters did you love?

Mia Wallace from Pulp Fiction, as you can see I’m a big Uma Thurman fan. I remember watching the scene where Mia and Vincent Vega go to Jack Rabbit Slim’s over and over on VHS. I also love Anna Karina in Godard’s films, she inspired Tarantino to create Mia, I also love Monica Vitti in La Notte. Her character stayed with me for a very long time.

Congratulations on representing Croatia at the Oscars, can you comment on how you’re feeling about that?

It’s a very good feeling because it’s my first film and there were so many other directors who could’ve represented Croatia at the Oscars, but they chose me, a girl who made her first film. I don’t think they’ve ever had a woman director represent Croatia. I’m in Los Angeles now and a year ago I wouldn’t have imagined this. I’m really, really happy.

 Foreign Language Film Coverage

Felicité - Senegal - Interview 

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Reader Comments (2)

We need more women like this in the Balkans.
The film sounds great

November 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGoran

Now i'm dying to see this. what an interesting interview. Thanks, Jose.

November 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

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