Fraulein [subtitled]

Fraulein

Fraulein, set in Switzerland, is an intelligent, slow-moving drama about the lives of immigrants from Yugoslavia, two especially.

The main characters are Ruza, a middle-aged, self-made businesswoman who owns and operates a café, and Ana, a woman in her 20s who gets a job as a waitress in the café. There are a number of other characters who are given lesser but still some attention, most notably Mila, an older woman who also works at the café, and who is ambivalent about her husband’s project of building a house in the old country and returning there, as she has put down roots and accepted Switzerland as home.

Ruza is a stern, no-nonsense woman, but not in the sense of being mean-spirited or a bad person. She just believes in working hard, being self-sufficient, fulfilling your obligations, and the basic Puritan work ethic stuff. She left communist Yugoslavia back when it was still Yugoslavia.

Ana is a free spirit, but definitely not in a bimbo kind of way. Indeed, she has a sort of detached, pensive style even as she parties all night at clubs and has a series of one-night stands, explained perhaps by the fact that she has leukemia (which is information she keeps to herself until very late in the movie). She left Yugoslavia just recently after it had broken up into genocidal chaos.

There isn’t all that much of a plot to Fraulein; it’s really more of an opportunity to gradually get to know these characters and especially to follow the relationship that develops between Ruza and Ana.

I was going to say that it’s largely about how Ruza and Ana influence each other, but as it turns out the influence is almost all in one direction, and not from the older to the younger character as you might expect.

As a result of getting to know Ana, and becoming friends with her and spending time with her, Ruza gradually comes out of her self-imposed shell. Not to some dramatic, unrealistic degree, but to a plausibly modest extent. She takes some tentative steps toward experiencing more of life, having fun, and allowing people—including a romantic partner—certain forms of intimacy that were previously off-limits, and she finds that she likes it.

But does Ana similarly prove open to some of Ruza’s more admirable traits? I’m inclined to say no, that she’s very close to the same person at the end of the movie as she was at the beginning. True, she is a reasonably responsible worker at the café, but I get the impression she has always been able to take something like that as seriously as she happens to need to for a given, temporary purpose, rather than that some of Ruza’s work ethic has rubbed off on her.

Ana in her way is at least as closed off from others as Ruza. The difference is that in her case it seems to be a conscious strategy probably having to do with her leukemia diagnosis—or perhaps with things that traumatized her back home that are not explored in the movie—rather than just a tendency that developed gradually and unintentionally.

Her one-night stands, for instance, are evidently motivated not by any desire to be close to another human being, but by the fact that she’s living out of a train station locker and if she doesn’t hook up with a stranger she won’t have a bed to sleep in that night. But even when one of the guys is depicted as being genuinely interested in her and wanting a relationship beyond one night of sex, she steps away from any such entanglement, even though aside from the opportunity for connection it at least would give her a roof over her head for more than one night at a time.

But she’s used to living day-to-day, taking a job here or there to earn the minimum necessary to sustain herself, drifting from place to place, drifting from bed to bed, and drifting from temporary friendship that she doesn’t permit herself to take too seriously to temporary friendship.

So she drops into Ruza’s life from nowhere—and Mila’s, and her sex partners’, and others’—opens their eyes a bit to certain things, and moves on. She may affect others and their futures, but as she sees it there’s no point in seeking to improve herself or her future because she has no future.

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