Set against the backdrop of a former Yugoslavia of the nineteen-nineties, this is a single mother's anguish of how one must deal with truths and how to cope with a war's terrible past. With a twelve year old daughter to bring-up, both mother and child come head-to-head when a school trip is in the air and complications and rude awakenings arise from the ashes' of the cold and callous days of conflict, xenophobia and its secrets.Written by
'Grbavica' is yet another superlative film coming from Bosnia. Firmly walking in the footsteps of Bosnian Best Foreign Language Film winner 'No Man's Land', the film trails a promising future for the fledging Bosnian film industry. This small, understated production is the proof-positive of the vibrancy of the Eastern European Cinema. A pioneering feature effort by the writer/director Jasmila Zbanic, the film has already been accoladed the prestigious Golden Bear at this year's Berlin International Film Festival and is sure to be a strong contender when it hits International festival circuit.
Ms Zbanic has created a quiet, sentimental and feminine picture of the war's aftermath and the emotional toll the war inflicts on a mother/daughter relationship. She assuredly, with a hand of a born film-maker, creates a small but potent film which is a startling reminder of cinema's transcendental powers.
'Grbavica' is sure to snuggle in the same underrated niche of anti-war movies that deal with lasting trauma on the psyche of war survivors. Movies like Hal Ashby's unforgettable 'Coming Home' or Russian 1959's classic 'Balad of a Soldier'.
The picture's lasting impact owes much to the haunting performance of Mirjana Karanovic, a consummate artist who has, for over a decade, been the most decorated and awarded actress coming from war-torn former Yugoslavia. In Esma, Mirjana has entered the body and soul of a tormented war victim with a dark secret, and thus given us yet another performance to talk about. Her daughter Sara is expertly played by the little Luna Mijovic in a film debut reminiscent of Natalie Portman's career-launching role in Luc Besson's 'The Professional'.
Variety's Russell Edwards pinpointed film's main shortcoming: '...the film is all set up and little pay off'. Indeed, although well-rounded and balanced, 'Grbavica' lacks complexity and dramatic density. A story thread is missing, a counterpoint of sorts, that would have enriched its thematic appeal and elevated its dramatic tension.
Even the best of war movies, intentionally or not, on some level or another could be seen as one-sided and propagandist. It took more than a hundred years of cinema for a film-maker to come along who realized this inherent danger in making war movies. 'Flags Of Our Fathers' is a solid war movie with a strong anti-war message. But who could blame some Japanese for seeing it as anti-Japanese. That's why the old man Clint, creating cinematic history, has given us 'Letters of Iwo Jima', the version of the same battle seen through the Japanese point-of-view.
Unspeakable atrocities are committed in any war. It would be idealistic if not idiotic to expect that a humane war could ever be waged. Both sides commit them, the stronger always more than the weaker. Had Ms. Zbanic weaved a story thread that would have touched upon this unfortunate reality, her subtle and soulful feature debut would have radiated universality of a true masterpiece.
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