Mathilde (2004)  




Director:     Nina Mimica.

Starring:     Jeremy Irons (Col. Marcus De Petris),  Nutsa Kukhianidze (Mathilde),  Dejan Acimovic (Croat corporal), Radko Polic (Unemployed major),  Ksenija Marinkovic (Croat captain).

during the Balkans War, Colonel Petris of the U.N. falls in love with Mathilde, a local girl, and he loses his perspective on his duties


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.  Curse words.

Croatia 1995.  A young woman named Mathilde cries over the dead body of Col. De Petris by the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea.  Soldiers rush over to her and pull her off the dead body. 

A ship burns up on the water.  It passes by a small village. 

A doctor is picked up by UN troops.  He is placed in the back of a police van.  A woman police officer shoves some photos toward him and says:  "This is reserved material, doctor.  The file of you and Col. De Petris."  The doctor replies:  "I am no longer a doctor.  How many times do I have to tell you?"  She informs him that this evening Col. De Petris was killed.  "The girl was found beside the body.  . . . She's the one you have to talk to."

The police officer and the doctor are taken down to the shore where the body lies in the water.  A soldier tells her:  "This could be bad news for Croatia on the eve of the Geneva peace talks."  The police officer tells the soldier to make sure this place gets cleaned up.  She then tells the doctor:  "Mathilde has confessed to killing him."  The doctor asks:  "So why do you need me?"  The woman says:  "To prove that she didn't."

The doctor was at one time a child psychologist.  He is now in a big, empty room with Mathilde. 

Back on the beach the doctor asks:  "Why me?"  "Because you are acquainted with the Colonel's real murderer.  A Serb war criminal he had been hunting, responsible for the deaths of more than 200 people.  Responsible for old people burned alive in their own homes.  For pregnant women impaled on wooden sticks."  They want the doctor's help to catch the man who murdered his wife and son. 

Back at the interrogation room, the doctor asks Mathilde if they can be friends?  Mathilde writes him a note that says:  "Fuck you!"

The policewoman says they don't know when Mathilde showed up in Split (the second largest urban center in Croatia).  She was with her younger brother.  The brother disappeared.  The doctor asks what were two kids doing with Col. De Petris?  They don't know and Mathilde won't tell them.  The only thing they got out of Mathilde was that she only spent one night together with the colonel. 

Back at the interrogation room, Mathilde shouts at the doctor:  "You're a fucking cop [or cock?]!" 

Flashback.  Mathilde sees explosions going off in her town.  And she sees a man shooting an automatic weapon at people from the back of a horse.  She runs down to the water to get her brother Misha who is playing with a toy ship like the one seen in the opening sequences of the film.  She grabs him and yells:  "Run!"  They hide in the forest.  Mathilde says he is going to have to be quiet.  She also says that they will soon be going to Split where can find some work. 

At the port sailors and others are promising to pay her money if she dives off a high platform tinto the water.  She says she wants $500 dollars.  Col. De Petris watches the display and says to a subordinate:  "She's the key.  Major.  Major, don't let her out of your sight."  He calls Gen. Colton on the phone.  When the general gets on the line, the colonel says:  "General, we have the bait."  The general says that if they have the bait, then they have their target Paragic.  He tells the colonel that this will only work if he can gain the trust of the girl.  The colonel says all he will need is one night with Mathilde.  The operation will start tomorrow morning.

The colonel goes down to watch the girl jump off the high platform.  She jumps into the water, but doesn't come back up.  He asks Misha if she can swim and he shakes his head no.  The colonel dives into the water. 

Back to the present.  Mathilde talks about the "blue helmets" (UN soldiers) wanting to make peace with her in bed.  The psychologist asks:  "Like the colonel?"  She doesn't answer. 

Flashback.  The colonel jumps into the water.  He yells for her and she answers him.  He asks her to keep talking until he can see her.  A boat comes by to rescue the girl who is sitting on top of a large buoy.

Mathilde and Misha are in some type of brothel with lots of prostitutes at work.  She talks with an older woman.  The colonel and the major come into the establishment and see Mathilde. 

Back to the present.  The doctor speaks with that older woman in the brothel.  She says Mathilde told her that her name is Mathilde and she offered her a deal, but wouldn't say what the deal was.  She just said if she says no, the woman would always wonder what she missed out on.

Trieste, Italy.  A chest containing the possessions of Col. De Petris are brought into Mrs. De Petris.  In the chest she finds the shirt he was wearing, complete with the bullet hole and the blood.  She starts to cry upon finding an early photo of herself and her husband together.  The general starts to enter the room, sees the distraught woman and slowly backs up closing the door behind him. 

On a cigarette package belonging to the colonel, the wife sees a note:  "Come back.  I will dance for you."  She wonders what  that's all about. 

Flashback.  Mathilde dances in a ballet outfit on top of a table in the dive.  The major and colonel watch her intently.  Even the prostitutes stop and watch her.  A big soldier doesn't like the song she is dancing to, but Mathilde tells him it's an old Slavic tune and Slavic doesn't mean just Serbian.  The fellow shoots his pistol into the ceiling and acts like he is going to shoot Mathilde.  The colonel grabs her, throws her over his shoulder and carries her out of the dive.  The huge fellow comes after them and the colonel and Mathilde have to hide behind a low wall.  Luckily, the guy doesn't find them. 

After the fellow passes by them, the colonel sees that Mathilde has moved her position because she's not with him anymore.  He walks down to the water saying her name.  She tells him from her hiding position to close his eyes and he will find her.  So he closes his eyes.  When he opens them Mathilde is right in front of him.  She says:  "You see.  It works."  She walks along the shore with the colonel following her.  He tells her that he is not personally interested in her.  He is only here to protect her.  He stumbles and the spines of a sea urchin get stuck in one of his hands.  Mathilde uses her teeth to pull out the spines. 

The colonel is picked up on the road by the sea by his driver.  Mathilde stays behind.  He is fascinated by her child-like behavior. 

The colonel meets with the general and they map out a way to approach the mountainous area to get their hands on Paragic.  The colonel says they can't catch him in the mountains, so they must get him down along the coast.  When Paragic picks up the bait along a certain bay, then they will have him, as it's hard to get out of the bay.  While talking with the general, the colonel grabs his pack of cigarettes.  He finds the note Mathilde left for him on the back of the cigarette pack and quickly puts the pack back into his jacket pocket.  The general tells him that they are going to kill Paragic.  The colonel objects saying that they might kill some of the civilians around the bay.  The general gets angry at the colonel for this.  He says Marcus is not to tell him what he can and can't do. 

The colonel keeps thinking back to his walk with Mathilde along the coast.  With her encouragement, he even went swimming. 

Mathilde is back at the dive.  The major keeps his eye on her.  She asks why the colonel didn't come himself?  The major says he is in a place where the fighting is.  He wants to try to save some lives.  The major asks her maybe he could substitute for the colonel if she is bored?  Mathilde doesn't seem interested.  He goes to the older woman and asks how much to have sex with Mathilde?  The woman says Mathilde is not one of the prostitutes.  She brings the place good luck. 

The general is still mad at the colonel.  In this mood he asks Marcus why hasn't he taken home leave in two years?  The colonel has flashbacks to scenes of dead civilians killed because of Paragic.  His flashbacks are interrupted by a soldier telling him that there's a problem.  The soldier drives the colonel up to a farm where the colonel sees the problem.  Somehow a cow got on the scaffolding and is now is on the scaffolding on top of the farm house roof. 

Mathilde tells her brother that the colonel is coming back for them.  Maybe they could live with the colonel?  She goes into a warehouse and grabs a wooden box.  Meanwhile, the colonel tries to get the cow off the roof. He finally succeeds when a  big crane picks up the netting around the cow.  While the general tries to get the colonel on the radio, the neighbors treat the colonel like a conquering hero.  They even give him some whiskey to drink.  The colonel now hears the radio call, but he does not answer it.  Instead, he gets some more drinks at a bar. 

Mathilde opens the box back at the dive, but the only thing in the box are Uzi submachine guns.  Mathilde is upset when she hears that the area in which the colonel is in has been cut off by the bad guys.  The big soldier that was going to shoot Mathilde grabs her arm to get her away from the Uzis, asking:  "Hey, Muslim, do you really want to die?"  She says she needs money to get to the area of the fighting.  He warns her that they kill people there like they kill flies. 

Sitting outside the bar watching people get on a large boat, Marcus decides to get aboard.  He runs toward the boat shouting for them to wait for him.   Meanwhile, the nasty soldier tells Mathhilde to meet him down at the dock with the Uzis or she'll never get to Mustar (?).  Misha grabs the suitcase holding the box of Uzis and runs out of the building as fast as he can. 

The colonel wakes up on the boat after a bunch of fish have just been dumped on him from the fishing nets.  The passengers are all laughing at him.  But the colonel is more concerned to know why haven't they landed in Trieste, Italy yet?  His head hurts from his hangover and he probably feels a bit sea-sick too.  He has more flashbacks of dead citizens.  Marcus starts screaming that they could have been there the day before and saved the people that are now dead.  He repeats that they could have been there, but they were held up.  He laughs and says they were celebrating with dancing and drinking.

Back to the present.  The child psychologist is told that the time is up.  The doctor quickly tells Mathilde that the gun used to kill the colonel was a 575.  Now he wants to know if 575s were really there?  She says:  "They certainly were."  She asks the psychologist what he really wants?  He says he wants Paragic to pay the penalty for all his war crimes and he wants to make sure that Mathilde is free.  He asks her:  "Why don't you let me help you?" 

Flashback.  At the dock the big soldier is slapping Mathilde around because her brother took the guns.  Mathilde cries that she will get the guns back.

Mathilde remembers back to her being with the colonel on the beach.  She tells him that he is mad about her.  Then she asks where would he like to be in the whole wide world and the colonel says right here. 

Mathilde is with the major in his hotel room.  He puts lipstick on her lips and tells her:  "You're just a dirty whore."  He has her slowly undress.  She is doing this so she can get the money to make the long trip to Mustar.  He asks her to show him what her colonel taught her. 

Back to the present.  The psychologist asks the former madam why didn't she really help Mathilde and Misha?  She ignores that and says that Mathilde's parents are dead.  They were killed by the first shell that hit the village.  The psychologist grabs some painting done by Misha and goes to find the old house of the two kids.  From the paintings done by Misha, he tells the mailman that this house is the house where Mathilde lived.  The mailman asks if he's crazy?  That's where Paragic lived.  The psychologist also learns that Mathilde's real name is Maria.  Furthermore, she was an only child.  And the so-called little brother is actually Paragic's son. 

The psychologist goes down to the shore at night to the little place in the rocks where Mathilde and Misha would stay.  He calls out for Misha and tells him not to be afraid because he is Mathilde's friend.  The psychologist looks around and discovers the box of Uzis. 

Flashback.  Mathilde and Marcus enjoy their day alone together.  He says to her that he has to tell her something that she doesn't know about him.  Some trucks and other vehicles come by and Marcus yells at Mathilde to get down and stay hidden.  After they pass by, he tells Mathilde to stop playing games.  That was his unit that just passed by them and he should be with them.  He says he has to go on an operation and Mathilde will be part of it.  He now tells her that they didn't meet by chance.  She says so he is finally figuring it out?  He knows who Mathilde is.  In fact, he knows all about her. 

From Trieste Marcus returns to his home.  His wife is shocked to see him.  He tells her that he is supposed to be up in the Croatian Mountains.  He adds:  "You have to help me save that little drop more that makes life beautiful."  He met a girl.  The wife says:  "And you love her."  He says no, but he is the only person that can help her.  The favor he asks of her is to call Gen Coulter and get the operation called off.  "Because he would do anything for you."

Back to the present.  Mrs. De Petris comes off a ship.  The general is there to greet her.  He says the colonel's death has been hard on both of them.  She says she has to see the girl.   The generals says:  "I thought perhaps you had come to see me." 

In the interrogation room, Mathilde is pushed into the room where Mrs. De Petris is waiting for her.  Mathilde acts weird once again, at least, until the older woman slaps her hard across the face.  She tells Mathilde that he might have had her fairy tales in his head when he died, but he had her photograph in his pocket.  Mathilde looks at her and says:  "Liar!" 

Flashback.  The colonel starts destroying all of his wife's large bird cages.  His wife calls the general to talk about canceling the operation.  When she gets off the phone, the colonel runs over to her to hear the news.  He is relieved when he hears that the operation is being canceled.  His wife tells him that the general says he has to take two weeks off.  Marcus objects asking who's going to watch out for Mathilde and Misha?    The wife tells him that they are being looked after.  Another sigh of relief from the colonel.  He says to her:  "Barbara, thank you."

Mathilde gets on a helicopter to head for Mustar.  There she looks all over for Col. De Petris, yelling out his name.  The colonel has sex with his wife.  A cameraman tells Mathilde that De Petris was though here a year ago gathering information on Paragis.  It seems that now Mathilde gets it when Marcus told her that he knew all about her and their meeting was not an accident. 

The colonel awakens suddenly from a night mare.  He calls up his unit and asks for the major.  The fellow who answers the phone says that the major is in Split.  They are working on an operation there.  The colonel tells the fellow that Operation Shark has been called off.  The fellow checks the orders on the operation and says no, it hasn't been called off.  He adds that there was a request to have the colonel removed from command for health reasons.  Now he learns that his wife is the one who called about the colonel's health and asked that her husband be removed from command.

The colonel quickly gets dressed, gets in an automobile and takes off.  The trap has been set by the UN unit.  Mathilde arrives back at the dive and shouts where did they take her brother?  The stoned prostitute there says that the military took him shark fishing.  Mathilde asks out loud where do you go shark fishing?  The prostitute says where the sharks are, at the bay.

Back to the present.  The psychologist tells Mathilde that she had an Uzi and had a reason for using it.  "Maybe it was you?"  Or maybe it was Misha.  Mathilde falls into a coma.  She hasn't eaten in days.  The psychologist now remembers the several times he saw her throw her food away.   He says it was part of her perfect plan to escape.  

Flashback.  Mathilde and the colonel walk on the road heading away from the shore.  She asks him to take her with him, but he says that the job he has involves people getting killed.  Mathilde says that everyone dies eventually.  They hug each other.  They kiss.  The major arrives in the jeep and the colonel gets on board.  Mathilde watches as the jeep disappears from her view. 

A man grabs Mathilde in the water.  She is being watched by the UN unit and they see this and think Paragic is the man.  All of a sudden the police show up and the Croat policewoman says they are taking over the operation.  In the small cave where Mathilda and Misha live, we find out that the man who grabbed Mathilde is none other than the colonel himself.  Mathilde tells him he shouldn't have stopped the operation.  The colonel says he was right to stop it.  Now she asks why the colonel used her? 

Mathilde says Paragic won't show up.  The colonel hopes she is right.  Mathilde says they are looking for a ghost.  Paragic tried to save his son Misha when the shells started falling on the town.  He started to ride his horse over to Misha, but was shot down by the Croats trying to kill him.  His body fell into the stream and was washed over the falls.  So Paragic won't be coming. 

Misha takes an Uzi and puts it to the back of the colonel's head.  Misha now says he has to take over from his father and do what he would have wanted.  The colonel tells Mathilde to tell the boy.  Misha says that the colonel is a traitor.  He shoots at the colonel, but misses.  The boy runs out of the cave and the colonel runs after the boy.  The major gives the order to fire and the colonel is shot many times.  Mathilde rushes out to the sea and grabs her colonel.  She tells Misha to run away.  The boy starts swimming away.  The soldiers and police grab Mathilde and the body. 

Back to the present.  Mathilde is gone.  The psychologist goes a bit crazy and starts attacking the general.  He is subdued and then all the military men leave saying they have more important tasks to attend to.  The female doctor comes to the psychologist and tells him that she meant that Mathilde is gone literally and physically.  She escaped from the hospital.  She thinks someone had to have helped her because the glass was broken from the outside.  The psychologist talks about Mathilde's perfect plan. 


The job of the United Nations colonel was to track down and capture a war criminal.  In this job he meets a young woman/girl named Mathilde and her brother Misha.  A love story begins between Col. De Petris and Mathilde.  A big problem is that the general wants to use Mathilde and Misha as bait to draw in the war criminal so he can be caught or killed.  Of course, the colonel doesn't want any harm to befall Mathilde so he works to get the operation canceled.  This activity gets him in trouble with his wife.  All these disparate actors interact to bring about the ultimate conclusion of the film.  There are quite a few surprises along the way.  It's kind of a detective story set against the background of the Balkans War.  Jeremy Irons was very good and so was Nutsa Kukhianidze (as Mathilde).  History here is used more as a backdrop for a love story and a detective story.  But you can still watch the film because it kept my interest throughout even if there wasn't that much history in the film. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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