No Man's Land (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner16/05/2002

Five out of five stars
Running time: 98 mins

Who would have thought it? Instead of choosing the sweet-centered but charming Amelie, the members of the Motion Picture Academy of America opted to give the Oscar for best foreign film to this blistering black comedy from Bosnian director Danis Tanovic. Even more remarkably, it’s his first film. So, members of said Academy, please take a bow.

The war is seen here through the eyes of the partisan fighter Chiki and the Serb conscript Nino who, through circumstance, find themselves stuck in a trench between Bosnian and Serbian lines. What could have been an inward looking, dialectic two-hander, instead expands outward as the hapless UN attempt a rescue, a rescue eagerly followed by Global News (a nom du guerre for CNN).

The labyrinthine world of Balkan politics is, thankfully, seldom discussed - the dialogue between the two combatants seldom goes beyond who should take the blame for the war (the answer is the one who is not holding the rifle). The mutual priority of getting out alive gradually pushes their political differences into the background. But fear not, this is no ‘buddy’ movie.

The UN, in the shape of the French and the British (represented by Simon Callow in a wonderful performance) take several direct hits for their inaction, while the media are presented as glory seeking parasites. Britain is castigated for refusing to supply the Bosnians with arms to defend themselves, yet supplying the Serbs with the mines that play such a prominent part in the film. It’s all very cynical but in the most positive sense of the term. There’s never a feeling of being manipulated into supporting a particular political viewpoint.

The real villains are, as you would expect, the Serbs, though here they get off comparatively lightly. Clearly Tanovich realises that a shouty film about Slab’s army wouldn’t travel very well… By opting to use humour, albeit of the darkest hue, as a counterpoint to the unfolding tragedy, he's made a universal and humane film that transcends politics.

Although the budget for this film must have been minuscule, this is not something you are aware of. In fact, any roughness around the edges merely serves to add authenticity, as does the use of multiple languages. Knowledge of the war is not a pre-requisite to enjoy the film; this could just as easily have been set in Northern Ireland.

At the denouement, an opportunity for a pat ending presents itself though it is resisted. A class last act then, for a very classy film.

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Content updated: 19/10/2017 08:05

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