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