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'No Man's Land'

'No Man's Land' ventures into the Balkans

Friday, February 15, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Return with us now to those oblivious days of yesteryear, when America still felt secure enough to avoid entanglements in foreign wars that we thought had nothing to do with us.

'No Man's Land'

RATING: R for violence and language; partially subtitled.

STARRING: Branko Djuric, Rene Bitorajac, Filip Sovagovic.

DIRECTOR: Danis Tanovic.

WEB SITE: www.mgmawards.com



Remember Bosnia, focal point of the butchery that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia into ethnic enclaves? Filmmaker Danis Tanovic explores that battleground in "No Man's Land," an Academy Award nominee for best foreign-language film now at the Squirrel Hill Theater. He finds intense personal drama, black comedy and theater of the absurd, in that order.

After a while, he is straining to make a point that many others have made before him in different contexts. In the end, though, the passions and the hatreds that lay behind the killing -- and the way in which they trump whatever actions may be more logical or wise -- remain the only things that really matter.

The movie begins with a squad of Bosnian soldiers literally lost in the fog. When they can finally see, they find themselves staring into the barrels of Serb guns. Ciki (Branko Djuric) takes refuge in a trench between the front lines, where he gets the drop on Nino (Rene Bitorajac), a Serb sent to root out any Bosnians who might have survived.

But the advantage changes back and forth -- whoever has the rifle holds the power. The two men trade recriminations about who started the war and keep threatening to kill each other. But then, realizing the fix they're in, they cooperate in an attempt to get rescued and come out of this alive. The metaphors for the larger conflict abound.

So do the pointed criticisms of the institutions that purportedly have come to help. The United Nations peacekeepers -- or, at least, their leaders -- are depicted as being interested primarily in covering their own butts and staying out of danger, which means the only peace they're keeping involves making sure their own soldiers never intervene.

When star TV reporter Jane Livingstone (Katrin Cartlidge doing a version of Christiane Amanpour with an English accent) gets wind of the story, she embarrasses the UN chiefs enough to do something. What that something turns out to be, and how everyone reacts afterward, is the punch line to this pungent film.

But Ciki and Nino have the last word, if not the last laugh, which may explain why you can take the peacekeepers out of the Balkans but it doesn't necessarily mean the Balkans are at peace.

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