Borderline ‘Ivana the Terrible’: A chip off of Dusan Makavejev’s cinematic block
Scene from Ivana Mladenović's zany work "Ivana the Terrible."

Serbian co-writer/director Ivana Mladenović’s Ivana the Terrible (seen at this year’s American Film Institute film festival) is many things, but one thing it most definitely is not is a sequel to Sergei Eisenstein’s 1940s Ivan the Terrible, Parts I and II. The cinematic style of this funny semi-autobiographical film is interesting in that Ivana plays a version of herself, as do her mother, father, grandmother and others in a mostly nonprofessional cast. Ms. Mladenović also relates that most of the events depicted onscreen actually happened to her. So Terrible is a hybrid movie, combining elements of documentary and fiction filmmaking.

Onscreen (and I guess offscreen) Ivana is from Kladovo, a small town on the Serbian-Romanian border. She moves to Bucharest, Romania, where she studies filmmaking and becomes an actress and director. In doing so Ivana turns into a local celebrity, the most famous living person from her hometown. But suffering from some unknown, undiagnosed ailment, when she returns to where she grew up Ivana finds out, like Thomas Wolfe before her, that “You Can’t Go Home Again.”

She immediately clashes with her parents, grandmother, town authorities and so on, embarking on a series of picaresque misadventures, in between hospital visits to find out why she lost her hair and feels so bad. Ivana, who is around 34, scandalizes the townsfolk by carrying on an affair with a young man 13 years her junior. Nevertheless, as a famous film talent she gets pressed into service as the figurehead of an annual festival celebrating Serbian and Romanian friendship.

Ivana hangs out with a former boyfriend, a rock musician, and his current lover, the over-the-top sexy Anca Pop, a Romanian “emancipated woman” who established National Clitoris Day. (Terrible is dedicated to the voluptuous Anca, who died in a car crash after playing a version of herself in Ivana’s film. Damn!)

Shot tongue in cheek, Terrible is 89 minutes of mostly good fun. Although there aren’t many laugh-out-loud moments per se, it did give me the smile of the day (as they said in Diner). Ivana is one of those people who’d be a total good-for-nothing if she didn’t have talent, which along with her humor is this filmmaker’s saving grace that redeems her from being a ne’er-do-well. This is one of those movies that actually would have been mo’ bettah if there were more nudity and graphic sex acts, but maybe these are restricted in Serbia and Romania?

Be that as it may, Ivana Mladenović attended a screening sponsored by L.A.’s South East European Film Festival (SEEfest) at the TCL Chinese 3 Theatre, where she took questions from a bemused AFI audience. Although my Yankee Doodle Dandy tongue couldn’t manage to pronounce his name correctly, I asked Ms. Mladenović what she thought of her fellow Serbian director Dusan Makavejev and his films, such as 1971’s great WR: Mysteries of the Organism and 1985’s English-language The Coca-Cola Kid, co-starring Eric Roberts and Greta Scacchi. I was delighted to hear that Makavejev was among her favorite directors, but sorrowed to learn he’d died earlier this year at age 86. Ivana lamented that she had never had the opportunity to meet her countryman.

But if it’s any consolation, I think something of Makavejev’s whimsical, transgressive cinematic sensibility lives on in Ivana Mladenović and her zany work. Ivana the Terrible is in Serbian and Romanian with English subtitles. The trailer can be viewed here.


Ed Rampell
Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell is an LA-based film historian/critic, author of "Progressive Hollywood: A People’s Film History of the United States," and co-author of "The Hawaii Movie and Television Book." He has written for Variety, Television Quarterly, Cineaste, New Times L.A., and other publications. Rampell lived in Tahiti, Samoa, Hawaii, and Micronesia, reporting on the nuclear-free and independent Pacific and Hawaiian Sovereignty movements.