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SARAJEVO 2022 Documentary Competition

Review: Diary of a Bride of Christ


- The feature debut by Marta Smerechynska is dedicated to her younger sister, who became a nun, but is ultimately a truly touching love letter to all women

Review: Diary of a Bride of Christ

It’s 1995. The video camera observes the wedding of a beautiful, young couple. The husband is a future priest. Soon, two girls will be born to these people, one of whom is Marta Smerechynska, the director of Diary of a Bride of Christ [+see also:
interview: Marta Smerechynska
film profile
. The girls grew up, and the youngest daughter, Nastia, decided to devote her life to serving God, informing her parents about this at the tender age of 13. Unable to accept her sister’s decision, Marta opted to try to resolve the situation in this, her graduation film.

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The life of young nuns in a modern Greek Catholic monastery in Western Ukraine is not overly varied. They bake bread and cook food, dressed in long dresses and scarves, engage in self-improvement activities and, of course, indulge in prayers. For young girls who choose to become Brides of Christ, everything is full of God’s love. The nuns see the manifestation of this everywhere: in the removal of their hair and in the renunciation of their names, for instance. Above all, intimate stories are shared by the nuns about how they felt their calling. What is it like to be a Bride of Christ? But also, what is it like to be a director of a film about said brides if the helmer’s younger sister forms part of this community?

Marta approaches her sibling after six years of silence. The film has a complicated structure, wherein there is an introduction made up of archival VHS recordings, a longer main part in which we see the life of the nuns, and a conclusion that takes the form of a final letter from Marta to Nastia. It is necessary to watch the picture from beginning to end in order to get a glimpse into this true sisterly love. After all, the nuns in the monastery are called “sisters”. Did Nastia find new sisters and then forget about Marta? Marta is trying to figure this out, and the deeper she digs, the clearer her own personality shines through.

Marta's life is full of chaos and questions about existence and the universe: who to be, where to concentrate one’s efforts, how to film one’s debut movie and so on. In contrast, Nastia's life is clear and simple – serve God and everything will be as it should be. Marta tries to understand her sister's choice in light of the fact that, during their childhood, they did not talk about God at all, even though He was present in their everyday lives – through the morning prayers or going to church on a Sunday. So what is God when you do not pay any attention to him? What does he give you? And what can you give him?

The film is full of such questions that Smerechynska attempts to ask her viewers through Sonya Gerasimova's observational camerawork. Every viewer will find something different in this movie, but ultimately, this powerful debut is a truly touching love letter to all women.

Diary of a Bride of Christ is a Ukrainian film produced by DGTL RLGN and the Ukrainian State Film Agency.

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