TIFF 2016: Marija Review


The titular protagonist in Michael Koch’s Marija simply wants to be a hairdresser. However, her dependence on two men, her landlord, Cer, and a sketchy businessman named Georg, may lead to her downfall. Marija excels when focusing on the protagonist’s vulnerability, but I also found her to be unsympathetic at times, especially when she continues to be involved in criminal activity. 

Marija (Margarita Breitkreiz) lives in poverty, to the point where she feels obligated to give her landlord sexual favours in exchange for rent. Marija has trouble keeping a steady job – at the beginning of the film, she’s caught committing theft and exacts vengeance on her accuser. Through Cer and Georg, she’s able to work as a translator / interpreter from Ukrainian and Russian into German. Perhaps her role as an interpreter could be taken metaphorically in that she comes to see the insidious sides of the two men she deals with most, and they ultimately don’t understand her or see her as a worthy human being. It’s revealing when Georg tells her that he needs an interpreter to understand her because she doesn’t like “his” cigarettes anymore (they weren’t his cigarettes to begin with, but were hers, thereby complicating this seemingly innocuous exchange). It’s interesting to psychoanalyze the two men, when they can’t “buy” Marija with their fame or money, they are vulnerable, pitying creatures.

The film excels when it demonstrates first-hand Marija’s inability to defend herself or advocate for what she wants, especially in her interactions with the two men in her life. On several occasions, she’s told what she likes and what she should be doing. She gives a number of places where she is from and tells a number of lies. Has she suffered so much that she has lost sight of who she really is? Is she also trying to “buy” the men’s affection?


Running a little long, I almost lost my ability to relate to Marija when she’s mired in a police investigation. However, this cautionary tale about being forced to depend on insidious men is reflective of the problems caused by the inequality of the sexes today.

Michael McNeely is a deaf-blind film critic and advocate for greater accessibility in our cinemas. Read more about his story here.