The other day, at one of the universities I teach at, I was chitchatting with an administrative staffer, a naturalized French citizen from Bosnia-Herzegovina (Mostar)—she came to France in the 1990s, in her teens—and who is about to go there for her summer vacation. We talked about the wars in Yugoslavia in the ’90s, particularly in Bosnia, and, as is my wont, I mentioned the movies I’d seen recently on the general subject. One of them, which I caught on DVD last month, was Angelina Jolie’s 2011 ‘In the Land of Blood and Honey’ (in France: Au pays du sang et du miel), on the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose narrative hook is the relationship between a Serb militiaman and a Bosniak female prisoner he takes under his protection, whom he had met at a Sarajevo nightclub before the war. Reviews for the film were generally positive in both the US and France, though a few were mixed. I thought it was good and tip my figurative hat to Angelina Jolie for making it (and for it being in Serbo-Croatian, a language she doesn’t speak). Now the film is a tad propagandistic and manichean, as the Bosniaks are portrayed as the victims and the Serbs the bad guys. The latter are really evil in the film, even when one or two of them try not to be. But Angelina J.’s portrayal is correct. The Serbs were the bad guys in Bosnia-Herzegovina. They really did murder at will, rape countless women—and the pic is explicit on this—, and behave in a genocidal manner toward the Bosniaks (as even if what happened in B-H in 1992-95 may not qualify stricto sensu as a genocide, the genocidal logic of the Serbs’ démarche can hardly be denied). One would have to be a fanaticized Serbian nationalist—or a deranged Muslimophobic pro-Serb foreigner—to insist otherwise. I won’t say that the film was perfect from beginning to end but I liked the politics and perspective, found the acting good—and particularly the protag, played by Zana Marjanović—, and it more than held my attention. For details, see the review in Salon by Andrew O’Hehir.
Briefly, on two other films from the ex-Yugoslavia seen in recent months (these at the cinema). One was ‘Children of Sarajevo’, by Aida Begić (who lived through the 1992-95 siege). The pic is about a 23-year-old named Rahima (actress Marija Pikić) and her 14-year-old brother, Nedim, who are orphans from the war and fending for themselves in contemporary Sarajevo, she supporting the two of them with a petit boulot. Rahima, one learns, had a dissolute adolescence but has now found religion and wears a headscarf, and is trying to protect her brother from getting into trouble (as he is, notably with a classmate who is the son of a government minister; the corruption of the nouveaux riche ruling class is a theme). It’s a small film, not too bad, but also not essential IMO. Reviews are here, here, and here.
The other one was the Serbian ‘Clip’, by youthful director Maja Miloš. Apparently inspired by the 1995 indie pic ‘Kids’—that I’ve never seen—, it’s set in a trashy, soulless cité in a trashy, soulless town somewhere near Belgrade, about teenage airheads who, when not at their trashy high school, spend their time listening to trashy music, surfing trashy Internet web sites, playing with their cell phones, consuming intoxicating substances, and engaging in porn-inspired sex acts (which are rather explicit). The guys are violence-prone assholes, the girls stupid, and the adults both. I went to see the pic strictly on the recommendation of Le Monde’s thumbs up review. During the thing I was slightly embarrassed to be watching it, wondering why I was subjecting myself to this (not to mention wasting my time), even though the pic is “serious,” has been screened at film fests, and even won awards. The director clearly had a point to make about aimless youth, life in contemporary Serbia, or something. US reviews (mainly positive) are here and here. Chacun son goût.