Croatia’s Oscar submission is a subtle meditation on past influences in the life of an anthropologist
Dir/scr: Dubravka Turic. Croatia. 2022. 98mins
Anthropologist Ana (Marija Skaricic) is herself studied intensely by Dubravka Turic’s low-key examination of grief and moving on. Though the traces of the title refer directly to Ana’s area of interest – ancient grave inscriptions and rituals – Turic’s debut film is infused with a multitude of additional echoes from the past and whispers from the future.
Those willing to fall into step with Turic’s rhythms will find themselves rewarded
The subtle nature of Turic’s drama, which she also edits, requires a little patience from viewers, but those willing to fall into step with her rhythms will find themselves rewarded. Traces has left its mark on the festival circuit since its premiere in Warsaw competition in 2022. It has now been selected as Croatia’s entry for Best International Feature at the Oscars, which should help raise its profile with potential arthouse distributors.
Rain sets the mournful tone for Turic’s film as Ana makes a solo field trip to the mountains where, in bygone eras, bodies were carried for burial, and stone monuments, named ‘Mirila’, were laid out in tribute to the dead. Ana also carries traces of her own stress, white patches caused by vitiligo which she covers with make-up; a condition that is no doubt exacerbated by the failing health of her father (Mate Gulin).
The sense of the pair rattling around their large apartment is enhanced by her father’s choice of entertainment. He watches David Attenborough-style nature programmes on television (and it’s a shame the film has to use a mimic rather than acquiring actual rights to a genuine clip) – or listening to a recording of TS Eliot’s melancholic and spiritually yearning ’The Love Song Of J Alfred Prufrock’ as he falls asleep. Ana’s life is about to be hit by new grief, but there are traces of the loss of a past life too, in stickers on the walls of a bedroom and a photo on a nightstand.
Cinematographer Damjan Radovanovic shoots these internal scenes with a shadowy intensity, and the melancholic piano-driven score from Jonas Jurkunas also feels like an etude on loneliness. But, despite this general mood, there are also more optimistic traces to be found, in the yellow of Ana’s coat against the grey rocks on the hillside, the golden glow of a goldfish in its bowl or in the idle chatter about cosmetic surgery in the lunchroom at work. Occasional overhead shots also offer an expansive contrast to the darker interiors, suggesting a wider world that is ready for Ana if she wants to step into it.
Turic’s unhurried style invites us to notice details, including traces of the daylight world in the click of traffic lights at night, the tags of graffiti artists that mirror those on the Mirila, or Ana’s response to a white rabbit which reminds her of one seen elsewhere. Not all of these traces are immediately obvious, with Turic carefully building through the narrative. Her work pays off at an emotional inflection point, as the lingering echoes of the past are joined by indications of the future, including bright post-it notes slapped on furniture to be kept by a new owner.
Skaricic’s performance is a minimalistic accomplishment, allowing a low-level sense of stress ripple through her character but letting it fall away at key moments. A trip to the mountainside, involving a lovely encounter with an old childhood friend (Niksa Butijer, arriving like sunshine on a cloudy day), lends a gently optimistic sweep to the latter part of the film. By the end, the weather may have grown colder but there are signs that, for Ana, a psychological spring has arrived.
Production companies: Kinorama, Tremora, Corona
International sales : Kinorama firstname.lastname@example.org
Producers: Ankica Juric Tilic, Ieva Norviliene, Milan Stojanovic, Marija Stojanovic, Ada Solomon
Cinematography: Damjan Radovanovic
Production design: Tajana Canic Stankovic
Editing: Dubravka Turic
Music: Jonas Jurkunas
Main cast: Marija Skaricic, Niksa Butijer, Mate Gulin, Lana Baric, Tvrtko Juric, Dragan Micanovic, Tanja Smoje, Marina Redzepovic, Aleksandra Naumov, Barbara Nola