In my work with refugees from ex Yugoslavia in the '90's I heard a lot of personal horror stories. Still deeply imbedded in me even after all these years, all came up watching the film. I can only imagine what it was like for the smattering of Bosnian souls that I recognized in the theater on the second night I went. We were 15 people maybe, not more. One man, he came with his mother. I remember him from long ago, we pretended not to recognize each other. Past histories can be too personal at times like this. His story centered on corpses floating down the famous Drina River in his hometown of Visegrad. Paramilitaries targeted Muslims, shot them and dumped them in the river. The river ran red with blood from so many riddled bodies getting dumped into it and at one point, the debris barrier at the water treatment center became clogged up for all the corpses thrown into the Drina. Those were the first few weeks in the Spring of 1992. In the movie, there is indeed a corpse face down in a river and I winced, wondering how much more real that image must be to the survivor sitting behind me in the dark theater, remembering.
It was a good film. Nowhere in the film did I see the cult of Jolie. It's as if she was the medium for the actors and the actual survivors of the war. It is what I expected of her, the maligning of her intentions in the beginning by certain groups in Bosnia notwithstanding. Reading between the lines of the publicity machine and her role as Ambassador to the UNHCR there was no doubt in my mind that she would not betray Bosnia, the women or herself by creating a contrived and irrelevant film. The hand that wrote the script allowed for critical cultural nuances where someone with a bigger ego would have gone for sensationalism.
It is a good film. Very good.
All night I could not evade the pale eyes of the lead actor that reminded me of yet another Bosnian I know, who as soldier on a rare night's furlough from the front secretly visited his family home for a few hours. They had to disguise his identity from his little son, lest the child reveal that the father had been there and in this, endanger the whole family. He sat there with his son on his knee, pretending to be a guest with a rifle, just passing through. I thought Goran Kostic, the lead actor, was well cast and totally plausible as a sensitive if not very complex man, living under the shadow of a bear like psychopath saddled with the all too typical Serbian martyr complex. As for Zana Marjanovic, his female counter part, who might just have the world's most beautiful smile, I declare with no irony that we should bow in gratitude to this natural wonder.
A few seconds here and there, when the acting or the lighting or the scenery seemed a teensy bit amateur, I felt it lent to the authenticity of the film. It struck me that the non glamorization of the lovers or for that matter any of the actors in the film really made watching it so much more an integral experience.
Not wanting to be a total push over I do have a couple of pet peeves to mention, although hopefully they will be forgotten as soon as I mention them. The constant snow in almost every scene drove me a bit batty mainly because it moved like fake snow and that was unnerving. And as petty as it seems, in my opinion the huge tattoo on the forearm of the guitar player in the opening scene seemed way too modern for a guy in some village band in early '90's Bosnia. Lastly, I was distraught that Rade Serbedzija, usually such a striking and angular looking person, was made to look like Ernest Borgnine's younger brother. The round softness fostered on him to resemble Ratko Mladic was almost unbearable. The saving grace as far as he is concerned was a superb 5 second scene where the look on his face as he breaks a wine glass on the table in faux triumph mode is as heartbreaking in it's authenticity as any scene in the film.
I am full, to the brim. I would recommend it to anyone. So, where are all the fans? Why was the theater empty?
Alas, rape doesn't sell when it is not fetishisized.
Walking out of the theater my friend, a movie buff said, "It just shows once again that men can fuck women anyway they want because....well... because they can".
The movie executes well, shocks in all the right places, moves with grace and even gives answers to questions we want answers to - but I still have a sinking feeling that no one really cares. No one wants to know about men raping women. No one wants to see that the western world stood by knowing about the rape and torture camps as they were happening an hour's flight from Rome and Vienna. We had 'no dog in the fight'.
No one except people like Angelina Jolie. Brava.