Michael KochGermany / Switzerland101 minutes2016ColourGerman
Struggling to survive in an unfamiliar (and unfriendly) city after losing her job, a young Ukrainian émigré stumbles into a shady line of employment.
The opening sequence of Marija speaks volumes about the titular character without even showing us her face. The camera follows at her shoulder while she walks block after block through the city of Dortmund to her home, a rundown hotel for immigrants. It's the sound of her footsteps on the pavement that tells us who Marija really is — strong, precise, determined, and unwavering.
Upon arriving at her spare but clean cubicle of an apartment, the young Ukrainian émigré discovers that her landlord Cem (Sahin Eryilmaz) is already waiting for her and for the weeks-overdue rent. They arrive at an unpleasant entente that has far-reaching consequences.
Recently out of a job, Marija does her best to weather the tribulations of being an immigrant woman on her own, occasionally showing glimpses of her closely guarded dreams and hopes. Her intelligence and ambition lead her to an involvement with what at first seems to be a legitimate enterprise. But when the truth comes to light, she sees that factors far beyond her control threaten everything she has worked so hard for.
It's hard to like Marija when we first meet her — her face is virtually without affect. But director Michael Koch shows how her wariness is a necessary act of self-protection. When her dreams are revealed, it's all but impossible not to root for her. Memorably and fearlessly portrayed by renowned theatre actor Margarita Breitkreiz, this woman is many things, but victim is never one of them.