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Review: Christina


- Serbian director Nikola Spasic crafts an absorbing documentary-fiction hybrid portrait of a transgender woman in Serbia

Review: Christina
Kristina Milosavljevic in Christina

A woman is lying down on a rug in a living room, a piece of fabric covering her eyes. Off-frame, a female voice softly guides her deeper and deeper into a waking dream. At the end of this journey, the woman lying down finally describes, a tinge of disappointment in her voice, that when she looks down, she sees a pair of male feet.

Serbian director Nikola Spasic and director of photography Igor Lazic (no relation!) shoot this sequence so unobtrusively, with such warm and beautiful images, that one may not immediately feel the urge to interpret or draw any conclusions from it. Only later is it made explicit that Kristina sometimes sees herself as a man during sessions of regression therapy because she is a transgender woman.

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Spasic, Lazic and screenwriter Milanka Gvoić maintain this absorbing, moment-to-moment aesthetic throughout Christina [+see also:
interview: Nikola Spasic
film profile
, a film portrait of Kristina Milosavljevic, which won two awards at FIDMarseille and played at the Seville Film Festival., where it has just received the Award for Best Direction in a First or Second Feature Film Even as it features interviews with her speaking to the filmmaker behind the camera, the never falls into the kind of voyeuristic objectification so frequent in documentaries or documentary-fiction hybrids like this film. Objectification isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is refreshing to see a film that is more interested in the daily life and thoughts of its subject as she herself experiences them, than as an outsider might perceive them.

This sense of perspective is largely achieved through the film’s pleasantly tranquil pace, each shot lingering just long enough to ease the viewer into it, move them away from the initial surprise of a new image, and create an absorbing atmosphere. At only 90 minutes, however, and unlike much arthouse cinema, the film avoids lingering just for the sake of it, and packs a lot into its short runtime.

This richness, as well as the feeling of introspection that imbues the film, also come down to Kristina herself. Images of her majestic, expensive looking house, as well as her impeccable sense of style, flawless make-up, and generally charming disposition, immediately make her come across as a very self-possessed person. This impression is confirmed during one early sequence which shows her at her terrace, first taking a call from an old woman whose furniture she believes might complement her carefully decorated home, then another call from another phone, from a client about to drop by. She changes into a sexy nightgown and waits for him in the living room, but the revelation that she is a sex worker barely feels like a revelation at all. It is just another fact of her well-organised life.

Kristina, however, is also a very thoughtful person and the film is, in fact, a slow-burn drama, building up almost imperceptibly from Kristina’s encounters with a man that she keeps bumping into by chance. Kristina does have friends, but this is a stranger being nice to her, a man; in her on-camera confessions (later playfully integrated into a more obviously fictional sequence showing Kristina talking to her friends), she talks anxiously about him and worries about how much he knows about her. As Kristina goes about her days, this stranger pops up again and again, until one beautiful scene where the two of them finally spend some real time together. Sitting on a bench, they talk frankly but respectfully about themselves and each other, and it turns out he works at a church. Like the rest of the film, however, their conversation is not a game of oppositions and binaries; taking precedence over whatever principles or ideas they might hold is their connection in the moment, their presence with one another. They discuss their relation to religion not in absolutes, but as a journey. He knows about Kristina’s job and about her being transgender, and when she asks him whether the fact that someone once “used to be a man” would be a dealbreaker for him, he simply says that he doesn’t know, that he would have to see.

Christina was produced by Rezon. International sales are handled by Reason8.

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