Sound of the bicycle bell. “Excuse me! Just a little please!” On her way to work, a young woman on a small green bike – a legendary Slovenian brand Pony – is trying to penetrate through a big group of Japanese tourists that gathered on one of Ljubljana’s streets.
Not so long-ago, Slovenia’s capital city – or – as tourist agencies like to call it nowadays, “the most beautiful city in the world”, was a relatively quiet provincial town. Being a “mecca” for the travellers is a new reality for the people who live here, on the sunny side of the Alps. The city lives a double life: the shiny side of the coin is the beautifully painted “picture perfect” for the tourists; the other, not-so-very-glamorous side belongs to the young inhabitants of the “Dragon City”.
Ljubljana presents the perfect setting and plays a crucial role in My Last Year as a Loser (2018), a semi-autobiographical first feature film by Slovenian writer-director Urša Menart. The story of the film focuses on Špela (Eva Jesenovec), a headstrong Art History Major, who is desperately trying to stand on her own two feet; to become financially independent and »a real person«, as Frances Ha would put it. Unlike her two best friends, who have moved out of the country in search of a better and more prosperous life, she is determined to stay in Ljubljana and to fight for her rights right there, in her beloved home town.
But her plans soon begin to crumble and she ends up on a couch in her parents’ apartment, faced with the miserable reality of poorly paid (or voluntary) work on various projects, in an underfinanced, uninspiring and stagnant cultural environment. In the brisk 88 minutes, Menart manages to tell a compelling and bittersweet story of a disillusioned generation, deconstructing the myth of a “good girl”, and further more – the myth of hardworking Slovenians. My Last Year as a Loser is a film about good people who are trying their best but are in constant conflict with the circumstances they find themselves in, or can’t escape from.
After the sole successes of Rok Biček’s Class Enemy (2013) and later The Family (2017), and Žiga Virc’s Houston We Have a Problem (2016), Slovenian cinema, or – to be more precise – its young directors, seem to have finally caught up with the rest of the world. Sonja Prosenc’s poetic meditation on grief-filled History of Love (2018) and Olmo Omerzu’s delightful road movie Winter Flies (2018) were both awarded at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Winter Flies were also shown at Toronto Film Festival and at BFI London Film Festival, as well as a provocative and raw first feature debut by Darko Štante, titled Consequences (2018). Menart’s film is yet to step into the international festival circuit, although My Last Year as a Loser already triumphed at the 21st Festival of Slovenian Film in Portorož (10-15 September), winning the Vesna Award for Best Film. The movie also won Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress and a Special Mention from the film critics’ jury. This remarkable victory by our very own Greta Gerwig also marks the first time in the history of the festival that a film directed by a woman has won the main award.
The confident and beautifully written feature, a concrete slice of life from here and now, comes to life with the magnificent interpretations of a well-chosen and balanced acting ensemble. The steady camera shots and vibrant colours give a dreamy and otherworldly atmosphere to a surprisingly precise, almost documentary-like portrait of a generation in a specific time and place. The film perfectly emotes the frustrated and paralysed generation that nobody gives a shit about; a generation caught in a broken system, unable to grow up, unsuccessful in getting inexistent jobs, let alone apartments, and disillusioned about life at home and abroad. Although enveloped in the harsh reality of her own generation, Menart keeps a healthy distance and wraps those pessimistic situations in a warm and intelligent layer of humour and absurdity. Ultimately, all elements come together in a cinematic piece that is at the same time relevant and a pleasure to watch.
Written by Ana Šturm
Edited by Sanja Struna
All photos © Željko Stevanić