War is still making headlines, of course, and with Richard Shepard’s quite excellent The Hunting Party looming on the horizon (more on this soon), I thought I’d re-post this review of 2001’s No Man’s Land. To wit:
Writer-director Danis Tanovic’s film opens with a group of Bosnian soldiers, ostensibly on a relief mission, lost in a thick, soupy battlefield fog. It’s an apt visual metaphor for No Man’s Land, a well-acted, thoughtfully constructed tragicomic exploration of just how murky all-consuming hate can be, even among starkly pronounced enemies.
Set in 1993 during the height of the Bosnian civil war, No Man’s Land takes its title from where its lead characters find themselves trapped. When the aforementioned fog dissipates and the Serbs open fire, reneging on a tentative peace accord, a T-shirt-clad fighter named Ciki (Branko Djuric) survives and manages to make his way to an abandoned ditch in between the two entrenched fronts. When the Serbian commander sends two of his soldiers to check the trench, Ciki hides and they find nothing. Before they leave, the duo set a booby trap, laying one of the dead Bosnian soldiers on a spring mine so that when his comrades find his body and move it, they too will be killed. As they finish the job, they notice that an abandoned rifle there minutes before is now missing; someone is in the trench with them. Cornered, Ciki springs from his hiding place, killing one of the Serb soldiers and wounding the other, a shiny-pated rookie named Nino (Rene Bitorajac). Rather than finish Nino off, however, Ciki spares him, figuring he may be a useful bargaining tool.
Adrien Brody), frustrated by the stultifying inaction of his United Nations superiors, who include the rather obviously named Colonel Soft (Four Weddings and a Funeral’s Simon Callow).
Much more than just an absurdist predicament, No Man’s Land manages to pull moments both light (the soldiers call the UN peacekeepers “smurfs” because of their light blue helmets) and grim — as well as always human — from its set-up. Ciki and Nino’s arguments are at first very straightforward and didactic, but as the film moves away from speechifying and into more illustrative examples of their (assumed) differences, it really gathers steam.
Plenty of films of this type, in which two mortal enemies are confined to specific quarters, have rosy and/or oversimplified worldviews that usually translate into cloying, pat resolutions. If everyone would just get together and talk, really get to know the so-called enemy, these optimistic films tell us, then things would be better, everyone would see how similar we really are to our neighbor. The small but crowning victory of