Dir: Andrea Staka. Sw-Ger-Bos-Cro-Serb. 2006. 81mins.

Cross-cultural relationships and the immigrantexperience are given a new twist in Das Fraulein, AndreaStaka's debut feature, which examines three womenfrom the former Yugoslavia and how they deal with their past, their present andtheir future.

Working from a script shewrote with Austrians Marie Kreuzer andwriter/director Barbara Albert (who resigned from the Locarnojury when her involvement in the picture became evident), Staka'snervously restless direction grounds a perceptively clever, if modest, picturethat should find its way into other festivals - it heads for Sarajevo after its Golden Leopard success at Locarno - as well as arthousedistribution, especially among female audiences.

Ruze (Mirjana Karanovic), a stern and strict fiftysomething,left Belgrade 25 years ago for Zurich, a young woman in search of the Westerndream. She resolved to make it on her own terms when her then-boyfriend failedto follow her to their new life together, forging ahead in a new world that turnedout to be nothing like what she hoped for.

Now she runs a modest,working-class diner with an iron fist, trusting no one with the keys, the cashor the stock. She's put Belgrade and her youth behind her, living a solitary,secluded life and careful not to show any sign of weakness nor sentiment.

Her faithful assistant is Mila(Ljubica Jovic), a Croatianwho quit Yugoslavia at the same time. She has left behind a disabled husband whonurses the dream about the villa they will eventually build with the money Milasends home.

Life is uneventful until thearrival one day in the diner of Ana (Marija Skaricic), a rebellious and passionate 22-year-old Bosnianfrom Sarajevo who sees in Switzerland a place where she might escape the woundsof the past. Suffering from an acute case of leukaemia that needs urgenttreatment, she is trying to shake herself free of her recent war-torn history.

Ana lends a hand, refusingto accept payment for work, and soon enough, she and Ruzestrike up a strange relationship. The newcomer is the opposite of everythingthe two older women stand for: she does not care for money norstability, has no future to look forward and so only exists for the present.

Ruze comes to regard her as an unruly replica of herself 25years ago, and in the process discovers an almost contagious hunger for lifethat she had thought gone. The diner owner even lets her hair down and dares toengage in a tentative affair with one of her customers before it becomes clearthat there is too much of a divide between Ruze andMila's world and that of Ana.

Staka's direction smartly places Das Fraulein on the unfashionably blue-collar side of Zurich, wherethe West looks as grey and an uninviting as it is for most immigrants. Each ofthe three women offers a variation on the same theme while also set againsteach other; it is a world in which the native population plays no real role(nor indeed do men).

Jerky, brusque cutting lendscreates an unsettling mood; combined with the fluid, mostly hand-held camera,it generates an authentic feeling of reality captured on the raw.

Topnotch performances come from MirjanaKaranovic, who successfully conveys how Ruze's grim determination gradually melts once she meetsAna; and Marija Skaricic, asthe untamed Ana, allowing nothing to stop her making the most of the littlethat life has left to offer.

Production company
Dschoint Ventschr Filmproduktion

International sales
Media Luna

Susane Rudlinger Samir
Mirjam Quinte
Davor Pusic

Andrea Staka
Barbara Albert
Marie Kreutzer

Igor Martinovic

Gion-Reto Killias

Production design
Sue Erdt

Peter von Siebenthal
Till Wyler
Daniel Jakob

Main cast
Mirjana Karanovic
Marija Skaricic
Ljubica Jovic
Andrea Zogg
Zdenko Jelcic
Pablo Aguilar