No Man's Land (2001)

Written & Directed by Danis Tanovic
Starring Branko Djuric, Rene Bitorajac, Filip Sovagovic, Georges Siatidis, Katrin Cartlidge

My Advice: Wait and Rent It.

It's 1993 and the conflict between Bosnia and Serbia is still raging until the watchful eye of the United Nations, not to mention the rest of the world. A Bosnian relief party on its way to the front lines gets lost in the fog and wakes up right in front of their enemies' positions. Swiss cheese results. A survivor (Djuric) makes his way to the trench between the lines and holes up, waiting for nightfall. The Serbs have different ideas, however, as a fresh Serbian soldier (Bitorajac) and his superior make their way over to secure the trench. What results is a standoff between wounded soldiers in the trench, with seemingly no way out, and an insidious booby trap that could kill everybody in the trench if somebody sneezes.

What seems like it's going to be simply an interesting study in War and Why It's Bad, instead morphs about halfway through into a study of War and Why It's Silly. If it wasn't absurd enough having two people in a trench who have mutual friends and speak the same language, but still trying to kill each other while stuck in a trench, Tanovic broadens the scope. He does this to include the parasitic media (represented by Cartlidge) and the ineffectual United Nations (represented by fave Simon Callow), who's so busy trying not to make waves or get their people hurt they can't even deal with any of the situations they find themselves in. And of course, we do have a French soldier there with the U.N. (Siatidis), who's fed up with having his hands tied and wants to actually do something. Welcome to the modern war. Sheesh.

This makes for an interesting portrait, and it disturbs me a little to see it described elsewhere as a comedy. I found nothing funny about it--is it still a black comedy if it goes all the way around back to drama again and stays there? But no matter. Probably the most amusing thing I witnessed was how in every single conversation outside the trench where two parties met, a certain amount of time was spent deciding on what language to have a discussion in. The important thing is that Tanovic's picture is ultimately both chilling and cinematically satisfying. I almost wish I could go into the final messed-up image that the viewer is left with but ach, no spoilers allowed. Regardless, it's an image that won't leave your mind any time soon.

Although a nice and blistering portrait of war at its most absurd--not to mention a good film--it won't lose anything on the small screen. So to save a few bucks, skip the art house and catch it at home.

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