No Man's Land

          As General Sherman so pithily stated, "War is hell!" In the hands of
  Bosnian director Danis Tanovic, it is also an absurdist comedy -- Sartre mixed
  with Beckett with a little of the Three Stooges thrown in for good measure.
  At least that's the feeling one gets watching
No Man's Land. On the surface,
  Tanovic's screenplay is rather obvious: two soldiers, a Bosnian and a Serb are
  trapped in a trench midway between warring armies and are forced into a truce
  when a third soldier, presumed to be dead, awakens to find he is lying on a
  mine. If he move, all three will die. Clearly a metaphor for the situation in his
  homeland -- it's a Bosnian soldier on the mine --
No Man's Land takes the
  conceit even further when a member of the UN peacekeeping forces attempt
  to intervene despite contrary orders from his superiors. Further complications
  ensue when a pushy British journalist senses something afoot and attempts
  to gain an exclusive, adding further confusion to an already dicey situation.

          The film opens with a nicely staged sequence in which a group of soldiers
  on their way to the front lines become lost in a fog and spend the night in an
  area they think is safe. When dawn breaks, though, they find they are at the
  front. Bosnian Ciki (Branko Djuric) attempts to save his wounded pal Cera (Filip
  Sovagovic) by dragging him into a trench that's equidistant from the opposing
  forces. The Serbs send out two soldiers to investigate. They cleverly boobytrap
  Cera by placing a bouncing mine under him. As soon as he is moved, the mine
  will pop up, explode and destroy everything within a certain radius of it. (It's
  also noted that this curious weapon of destruction is American-made.) After a
  protracted gun battle, during which the ranking Serbian is killed, Ciki comes
  face to face with his opponent, Nino (Rene Bitorajac), a relatively new recruit
  without much training. The pair exchange taunts and insults, including
  accusations about which side actually started the war, and then settle into an
  uneasy truce when they realize that they are at a stalemate, particularly when
  Cera regains consciousness and is apprised of the dire circumstances.

          After Nino makes it clear he doesn't know how to deactivate the mine,
  Ciki hits on an idea to involve the United Nations peacekeeping forces,
  derogatorily referred to as "the Smurfs." Although ordered by a calculating
  UN officer (Simon Callow) not to become involved, the UN soldiers are drawn
  into the conflict after it becomes clear an intrepid British journalist (Katrin
  Cartlidge) has learned of the potentially explosive situation. With so many
  variables affecting the outcome, the audience isn't sure what will happen and
  it's a tribute to Tanovic's vision that he keeps one guessing up until the very
  last, haunting image.

          The screenplay addresses complex issues in a straightforward, if clearly
  biased, manner. Tanovic obviously has disdain for the UN and its seemingly
  ineffectual presence in the former Yugoslavia. While some in the audience
  may be put off by his politics, the filmmaker does make cogent points about
  the human costs of war. While allegorical in nature,
No Man's Land doesn't
  offer up any easy answers, instead it ponders how simple matters can be
  misconstrued, leading to conflict and loss of life. It's a potent and powerful
  piece of movie making.

                                  Rating:              B
                                  MPAA Rating:     R for violence and language
                                  Running time:    97 mins.
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.