No Man's Land
Written and directed by Danis Tanovic

Starring Branko Djuric, Rene Bitorajac


No Man's Land

Here's a small irony for you: "No Man's Land," Danis Tanovic's film about the war in the brutally divided Bosnia between Bosnians and Serbs, had to be filmed in Slovenia, which was originally the back half of the now-divided Czechoslovakia. To have filmed it in its own country would evidently have been too inflammatory and perhaps even be the cause of new bloodshed.

The film, which has been nominated this year for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film, is set in a deceptively tiny place and moment of time. One lovely summer afternoon two soldiers - a Bosnian, Chiki (Branko Djuric), and a Serb, Nino (Rene Bitorajac), come upon each other in a trench between the lines. Nino and his superior have just set an American-made mine under the body of a dead Bosnian - a 'bouncing' mine that when the body is lifted will bounce up a few feet and kill anything within thirty meters. Chiki has killed Nino's superior but cannot bring himself to finish off Nino; nor can Nino kill Chiki. Their playground taunting has the bleak wit of black comedy, but then reality strikes. The 'dead' man is not dead after all; just wounded. But he cannot be allowed to move, because that will detonate the mine. Now the three men are trapped with each other.

Nino and Chiki hit on a scheme to bring in a United Nations patrol that will defuse the mine, and sure enough the patrol - under orders only to render humanitarian aid - arrives in its white vehicles. Here, though, is where Tanovic's film begins to lose focus in an attempt to make a larger statement. The supervising U.N. colonel (Simon Callow) is a self-centered dandy who travels with his mini-skirted aide; Callow plays the role so broadly he becomes a caricature. And the British news reporter covering the story (Katrin Cartlidge) is obnoxious to a painful degree. One wonders whether Tanovic's Bosnian ear cannot hear English well enough to direct his English-speaking actors to modify their readings.

And yet another quibble: the film's resolution is meant to be a sober, even tragic statement about the underlying inanity of a war like this, in which warmakers and peacekeepers are all prisoners of their own illusions, and there is neither victory nor peace. Tanovic, by trying for more than his film can sustain, leaves the rest of us empty and unsatisfied; but his film has enough power, and the performaces by his Bosnian and Serb soldiers are so good -- as is that of the U.N. patrol leader, played by Georges Siatides --that he has made the journey worthwhile.