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Boznia-Herzegovina 2001
Directed by
Danis Tanović
98 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Chris Thompson
4 stars

No Man's Land

Ciki (Branko Djuric) and Nino (Rene Bitorajac), a Bosnian and a Serb, are soldiers stranded in No Man's Land, a trench between enemy lines, during the Bosnian war. They have no one to trust, no way to escape without getting shot and, to make matters worse, Ĉera (Filip Ŝovagović) a fellow soldier is lying on the trench floor with a spring-loaded bomb set to explode beneath him if he moves. Surrounded by the blue helmets of the UN Peacekeepers under the command of Colonel Soft (Simon Callow) and caught on camera by reporter Jane Livingstone (Katrin Cartlidge) the men are stuck in both a literal and metaphorical Limbo where no-one is willing to take responsibility for helping them.

Perhaps the effectiveness of this very funny, very dark anti-war film is the simplicity of its premise. In some ways the situation is an obvious one: force the representatives of two opposing sides to confront their differences by presenting them with a common threat and the necessity of working together opens them both up to a greater understanding of each other. What makes this work so well, though, is the strength of the performances by Djuric, Bitorajac and Ŝovagović who largely carry the film albeit with some well-placed interruptions (you could hardly call it assistance) from both the peacekeepers and the media.

The film is rather merciless in its view on the ineffectual and self-serving nature of the United Nations forces (or Smurfs as they get called due to their blue helmets). It highlights how problematic it is when the world through its UN auspices or its global media concerns decides to intervene in conflicts of this nature. Their well-meaning efforts seem constantly hamstrung by protocols, bureaucracy and the hunger for ratings. It’s quite terrifying when you think about it in human terms but in the hands of skilled filmmakers such as these it is also ripe for cleverly-written satire.

The subtlety of the humour played out in the trench is undermined to some extent by the broader comedy of Callow’s performance as Colonel Soft. He plays the UN Commander as a caricature complete with a leggy assistant draped across his desk. It feels a bit ham-fisted compared with the astuteness of the rest of the film. But that only accounts for a couple of scenes. The rest of the film is spot-on in its portrayal of the expendability of the little guy in the midst of the military (albeit a peacekeeping force) machine and the conflict of global imperatives versus local concerns. It’s little wonder that it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.




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