– Igor Mirković’s sophomore fiction feature is an ambitious, erotic drama-thriller about online relationships

Review: Sweet Simona

Jerko Marčić and Maja Jurić in Sweet Simona

The rules of the “game” are simple: lonely clients send text messages to chat with online sex workers, and the workers’ goal is to hold the clients’ interest in order for the chat to last as long as possible. The “product” they sell in this role-playing business is not sex, per se, but rather illusions and fantasies. Theoretically, the clients should have learned the rules or at least realised that it is a game by now, since the phone and online sex business is not really that new. But what happens when the human factor intervenes?

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This is the question posed by Croatian filmmaker Igor Mirković – best known for his work on shorts, documentaries and TV series, as well as his debut fiction feature, Night Boats [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Igor Mirković
film profile
]
(2012) – in his sophomore feature fiction film, Sweet Simona. This erotic drama-thriller, produced by Ivan Maloča’s Interfilm, is hitting domestic cinemas now, distributed by Duplicato Media.

A lonely, Austrian-based cab driver called Bobo (character actor Jerko Marčić) falls hard for a chat girl who has introduced herself as Sweet Simona. His obsession with her gets so extreme that he sees her everywhere – in a local young woman who works at the dry-clean service, and even in a boutique mannequin – and his delusions are further fuelled by the notion that she sometimes visits his town, as stated by her in the chat. But, despite Simona taking a certain form (that of actress Maja Jurić, best known for her award-winning performance in François Lunel’s Those Dark Nights) in Bobo’s fantasies, she does not actually exist.

Sweet Simona is an alias invented and used by Zeleni (Toma Medvešek, in his first major feature-film role), a down-on-his-luck young man who works as a sex-chat worker in an agency operated by Liza (Nela Kocsis) in a flat in central Zagreb. When we meet him, Zeleni (meaning “Green”) is at rock bottom: he has racked up a huge gambling debt and his girlfriend Dina (Nikolina Prkačin) has just left him, so his job is probably the only lifeline he has left. The almost exclusively male “landscape” of the agency is about to change when former nurse Jana (Tina Keserović, glimpsed in Barbara Albert’s Mademoiselle Paradis [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Barbara Albert
film profile
]
) comes to work with them. But her more humane ideas about the “business” might prove to be dangerous for the agency, the employees and the clients (such as Bobo) as well…

Sweet Simona is a very ambitious film that deals with a number of serious topics, ranging from internal, psychological ones, such as a sense of loneliness and one’s need for the illusion of being loved and needed, to more external ones, such as relationships in the workplace, exploitation, and the “centre” and the periphery, all handsomely packaged into the erotic-thriller genre. This task seems even harder bearing in mind that the film has four protagonists that are equally important for its complicated story, and at least as many supporting characters that are crucial in driving the narrative forward.

At first, Mirković masterfully conducts the whole thing, relying on the perfectly nuanced acting by the cast members (who are not recognised as stars but who work well as an ensemble), the suggestive, neon-lit design, the occasional infusions of sexy sleaze, and the very thin lines between imagination and reality, all executed to perfection through Ivan Zadro’s cinematography and the editing by Tomislav Pavlic. However, the film loses some of its momentum and ability to grip the viewer towards the end, since the stakes get higher and higher, making the solutions seem more and more provisional and rushed. Nevertheless, Sweet Simona is a fine example of cinema with wide appeal that could easily attract audiences internationally as well as locally.

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