Jelena is depressed. Her husband has recently died, leaving her a widow. Her senile mother and vitriolic daughters only cause her grief. Jelena sees no use to keep on living and so secretly decides to kill herself on the anniversary of her husband's death. First, however, she must tie up some loose ends. Jelena visits offices of public administrative officials and the quarters of her old employer— a descent into a particularly drab purgatory. With her affairs finally sorted, Jelena's daughter then announces one last surprise.
A bone-dry comedy set in the absurd monolith of Serbian bureaucracy, Requiem for Mrs. J is a Kafkaesque portrait of life and death in the former Yugoslavia. Bojan Vuletic's second film premiered at Berlin, CPH:PIX; FEST International Film Festival, where it won Best Film and the Jury Prize for Best Actress, Best Script, and Best Director; Wiesbaden goEast, where it won Best Film; and Sofia, where it won the FIPRESCI Prize. Requiem for Mrs. J was selected as the Serbian entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards, but it was not nominated.
"A severely depressed widow lives a life of quiet desperation in Requiem for Mrs. J, one of the more pleasantly surprising oddities to premiere at the Berlinale so far. With its fatalistic mood, lethargic pace and washed-out color palette, Serbian writer-director Bojan Vuletic's somber comedy initially feels like the kind of relentlessly grim Eastern Bloc art house misery porn that was once designed to suck all the joy out of serious-minded film festival programs. But there is something much more playful and affirmative going on below the surface here, a stifled scream of defiant humanity against a mercilessly cruel universe… Requiem for Mrs. J bubbles along with deliciously deadpan humor and a warm glow of empathy toward its flawed protagonists. The drabness of the setting, a wintry concrete wasteland painted in 50 shades of joyless brown, is pointedly grim but artfully composed. Vuletic and his cinematographer Jelena Stankovic repeatedly use static master shots that are symmetrical and geometrically precise, conjuring up a painterly aesthetic despite their obviously modest budget. If Wes Anderson made a movie about suicidal Balkan widows, it would probably look like this"
"The line between despair and hilarity is a fine one in Requiem for Mrs. J, a Sahara-dry comedy of abject depression in Serbian suburbia that could play from certain angles as an entirely stern affair. The serpentine inefficiencies of national bureaucracy are bitterly satirized in writer-director Bojan Vuletic's trim, impeccably composed sophomore feature, which follows a middle-aged widow through the uncertain corridor of suicide crisis… it's a bleak trip to the emotional gallows, lent human shading and flickers of tenderness by Mirjana Karanović's soulful, sorrowful performance in the title role"
"Holding the picture together, Karanovic is a consummate performer who never steps out of her role, her face a mask of bewildered defeat at things she cannot comprehend or care for anymore. Constantly pushed, be it by the dysfunctionality of her family, the vulgarity of peddlers on the street, the greedy salesmanship of the graveyard stonemason, the bureaucratic bluntness and corruption of state organizations, the desolation of abandoned workplaces or the sheer loneliness of her existence, she has given up. The plot's final twist brings in some sunlight, suggesting that even these clouds have somewhere, a silver lining, just enough to make life worth living"
"An acutely sarcastic portrait of a country's journey from socialism to capitalism— a place where it's become impossible to live and impossible to die. The procedural account of the pilgrimage that, for Mrs. J., becomes a series of bureaucratic errands is reminiscent of the inwardly pressing atmosphere underlying the films of the Romanian New Wave. The insidious tone conveyed in the director's script is transfigured in Mirjana Karanović's at once understated and emotional performance into a weighty testimony about generations whose life ended with the political transformation of the state"
- Kamila Dolotina, Film Program, Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
"A tragicomedy about generations defeated by society… cinematographer Jelena Stanković, production designer Zorana Petrović, sound designer Boris Trayanov and editor Vladimir Pavlovski make for an excellent team that executes both the realistic and the oneiric aspects of the film to powerful effect"
"Comedy doesn't come in many darker shades than that employed by Serbian director Bojan Vuletic in Requiem For Mrs J, this is truly the vantablack of humor. Mrs J… just wants to die but finds herself caught in a Kafkaesque struggle with bureaucracy instead"