on June 18, 2004
A satire not only on the Balkan war, but also on human frailties and the follies of human institutions as a whole: Once the dark side of human nature is triggered, destruction is a River of No Return.
Where does truth lie: with those holding the gun wielding power? Was the United Nations, vested with the greatest power in this matter, in fact taking side by literaly taking no side? Wasn't the Commander General of the UN army (a British) who wouldn't like to get involved, wise after all: Wasn't the result much the same despite all the efforts? Were the media, exposing the inertia of UN army, doing anybody any service other than themselves? Was the French troop necessarily more helpful by being warm hearted than the British? If so, where did it lead us to?
The film is more like a play than a movie, but we don't need much settings anyway. There is bloodshed but never too bloody, only sadness and definitely not a boredom. You can easily finish it, so to speak, within one breath. However, note that the photos on the box of the DVD are not equally attractive. It may even be misleading at least until you have finished watching the film.
on July 22, 2003
Perhaps this is out of line but from a Western point of view Muslims persecute those who are of a Western background. As this movie shows and as anyone who is relatively informed of world events knows, Muslims are also persecuted. This movie takes the viewer, in a modern day Catch-22, into the heart of the conflict: individuals.
The movie is strangely lacking in sensationalism. It presents situations and the slow unfolding of the situation. It is the subtlety of the characters' interaction with one another that allows the drama to unfold. The drama begins with human beings and human beings reveal why it is that war is so complex. In the trench in which the movie unfolds, the human element begins to surface. We feel a connection with all of the characters and while we may not understand we begin to feel.
The Serbian and the Bosnian, bitter enemies, find connection on a human plane. One of the Frenchmen working for the 'neutral' United Nation's peacekeeping force shows his human side when he tires of playing passive observing, revealing that not to choose sides is to choose sides. The British television journalist shows her human side when she begins to understand the fine line between good journalism and exploitation. Even the man sitting on the mine shows just how human all of this is. All these elements merge in the trench.
While I watched it in subtitles it became obvious that the language differences revealed just how complicated human interaction can be. Something as seemingly simple as failure to communicate can not only be bridged by tragedy but how failure to communicate can lead to tragedy as well.
From a Western point of view, the world is pretty much black and white, good guys and bad guys, win or lose, right or wrong. This movie slowly reveals, with the 'Western' mode of thought shown as complicating rather than helping, the absurdity of war. There are no easy answers, war is never so cut and dry as we seem to sometimes think.
There are no clear answers, we can never really know or understand what happens to men during warfare and we are ultimately all just human beings in the end with all our complications. War is complicated. So are we. This movie unfolds the complication from a very human point of view that shuns Hollywood's antics. And it does so brilliantly.
The movie has lingered with me in a way few movies have.
on March 18, 2004
"No Man's Land," starring Branko Djuric as Ciki (pronounced Tcheeky) and Rene Bitorajac as Nino shows the pragmatics of war. These two men represent each side of the Serbian-Bosnian conflict.
Both are convinced that the other side started it, and later, both are convinced the other side is bombing them directly. Both learn of the injustices done in the name of war done by their own side.
The tension of the story is not the war, but the survival of three men, Ciki, Nino, and Cera (pronounced Tsera, played by Filip Sovagovic).
Ciki, a Bosnian, and Nino, a Serb, end up in a foxhole. Neither wants to be there, and both need the other to get out alive. They don't care about the other, even as they find some common ground like a former lover they each had. The war and its wage of death is the vault between them truly acknowledging the other's humanity, but they lean on each other awkwardly, but effectively to persuade the UN to save them, and Cera, also a Bosnian.
The trouble is that Cera lays upon a mine that will detonate when he moves. Naturally, then, he stays still. The fear of the mine blowing up provides the need for them to work toward a solution. With no obvious fix, they attract the UN, who are a mix of competent and incompetent, passive and intentional leaders. The UN's indecisiveness jeopardizes the soldiers, and their philosophical unwillingness to resolve the problem only exacerbates the anger between the soldiers.
It carefully stands away from the divisive, bitter fight, indicating that the both sides aren't pure in motivation. Each character is so far removed from whatever started the conflict, that any ending becomes a tragedy.
There are two sides to any war: those who are governing it, and those who are fighting in it. Within that war, among those fighting in it, are two more sides: those who believe in the fight, and those conscripted to be there. All are part of this movie.
"No Man's Land" shows that the Big Muddy, as Pete Seeger once sang of WWII, is not just in 1942 or Vietnam. In the trenches, as a force of war's reality, evil occurs. It is the default of war that men are asked to kill, and it is the default of man that the living will die.
I fully recommend "No Man's Land." For a look at a similarly powerful movie about the Irish conflict, see Daniel Day-Lewis and Emma Thompson in 1994's "In the Name of the Father."
on December 25, 2003
Shot in a sort of "reality TV" way, the movie takes you through what seems to be a simple enough situation - 3 men caught in the dividing line between 2 warring sides and need people to rescue them. The ensuing chaos and confusion results, after the UN had to be called in to resolve this issue... one of the men had been laid onto a booby trap which will detonate if he moves, which complicates things even further. The news reporters representing the big news networks around the world are portrayed as anything but angels, so are the UN peacekeepers who are supposedly stationed there to keep peace. There aren't special effects in this movie, a number of shoot-them-up scenes but witty dialogue, a great script and convincing acting dominated the whole movie. It may not be as politically correct as some people would have preferred, but it is a valid perspective anyway, depending on whose side you're with. This movie is based on the real-life Balkan war that happened not so long ago. The length of the movie (it seemed to have taken almost 2.5 or 3 hours to watch) is probably why I took off a star for this review.... a storyline as this, although supported by great dialogue and acting, shouldn't have taken so long to finish... Still, it was funny, entertaining, and serious at the same time. Definitely worth watching!
on November 29, 2003
"No Man's Land" is a triumphant and dark satire with raw power that is both undeniable and mesmerizing. And that says a lot, being that I'm not the biggest fan of foreign films. The film is funny and tragic at the same time. Very rarely can you come across a decent movie that can successfully combine drama with comedy, let alone finding one that is superb. "No Man's Land" is indeed superb on all levels.
The film takes place during the horrific Bosnian-Serb conflict. In a strange turn-of-events, a Bosnian soldier ends up being trapped with a Serbian soldier in a trench (a wounded comrade of the Bosnian soldier is also in the trench). Both the Bosnian and Serbian sides refuse to help the two, so it's up to the UN to try to come up with a reasonable solution. Now, that would sound like a great idea, except the UN is portrayed as being extremely lazy and incompetent. While in the trench, the two armed soldiers have nothing to do but to wait for help... that is, if they don't kill each other first.
This is a unique film that is fresh and daring. Not a single boring minute went by during my whole viewing of the movie. It's tragic, and yet comical. The movie is able to work on every emotion, which is something that is very hard for a film to do successfully. While it is indeed a satire, the film does a good job of setting up the stage for the Bosnian-Serb conflict and gives us an idea of what was happening during that time. It's a film that will make you want to learn more about the conflict, which is something I highly recommend. After you read more about it, then watch the movie again and I guarantee you that you'll enjoy it a lot more the second time around.
The DVD is pretty standard, offering very little special features. The picture quality is crystal clear and the sound is great. The movie offers English, French and Spanish subtitles. Don't let the subtitles scare you, as they are extremely easy to read and follow. It's also easy to tell what's going on without reading too much into it. The only special feature available, aside from the subtitles, is the original theatrical trailer.
"No Man's Land" is an unforgettable experience that portrays a dark time in history. It is comical and sad at the same time. For somebody who isn't the biggest fan of foreign films, I must admit that I loved this movie. An interesting viewing, if you ask me.
on September 21, 2003
I couldn't help but love this movie. The writing is amazing, the acting is top-notch, and the story is simple and moving. I was compelled by every moment of this movie.
This aside, there are no flaws in this movie. It is perfectly done. The acting, as I said, is amazing. You even forget that the actors aren't speaking English throughout most of the movie. Particularly good was the Bosnian soldier sitting on a mine. He knows that if he moves, he's dead. He knows they can't defuse the mine. He's dead, he knows it, and it shows. It would be really easy to overplay or underplay this part, but the actor (I can't recall his name) does it perfectly. He doesn't wail about "woe is me" as you'd suspect. He takes it like a man when others are around, his only comment being "Why is this happening to me?" Yet, when the others aren't looking, there's a particularly powerful scene in which he silently cries to himself.
Another notable part is the French Sergeant. He's the crusader; he's sick of sitting around doing nothing. Yet, even by doing something he ultimately does nothing. Brilliant.
I would highly recommend this movie to any who want a real perspective on the Bosnian war, or the futility of war in general. I would give it six stars if I could.
on July 31, 2003
I can tell you that this movie, more than anything else I have seen, captures the banal stupidity, bureaucracy, inadequacy and futility of UNPROFOR to a degree approaching the actual circumstances. It is a brilliant movie, well deserving the awards it earned. To me, its strength is its accuracy to the conditions at the time. Everything in this movie, no matter how silly or how stereotypical, is perfectly believeable. It really shows just how impossible the whole business was at the time. The French sergeant is not just some character--I have known many men essentially identical to him--and he shows the really decent and human side of the poor souls who are sent into missions such as these. As an aside, I was pleased to see a Frenchman in a sympathetic role; this is also in keeping with my own experience in Bosnia and elsewhere.
I am pleased and impressed that the film does not portray the Serbs and Bosniacs as bad-guys or good-guys based on nationality. It correctly portrays individuals, with both Armiies essentially operating in a similar way. The Croats are not mentioned in this story, but on the individual level it would be similar.
Bottom line is that this is the best dramatic film I have seen on the subject of UNPROFOR. Please know that the truth was actually even worse. This is not meant as a criticism of the individual soldiers, of all nationalities who served with UNPROFOR. It is meant as a criticism of the terms of reference for the mission. These were a disgrace to the civilised world, and I am glad that IFOR was able to make amends for it, at least with respect to those poor souls in BiH who were still alive when we took over from UNPROFOR.
The total failure of the West to solve the movie's central dramatic problem of the Bosniac soldier on the mine seems to me a metaphor for the strategic failure of UNPROFOR. It took IFOR (NATO) to end this war for good. And this is why every Bosniac (and even many Serbs) I talk with are keen to keep the present SFOR in Bosnia for the foreseeable future.
on July 25, 2003
This movie was interesting, and very well done. I wouldn't consider it a masterpiece, but definately worth watching. A lot of reviewers are praising the dialogue, which I did not find to be extraordinary; I thought the physical acting of the characters, the little touches, was what made them seem so real. Some moments the characters seemed very natural as if we were watching a real event, like Marchand and his soldiers running around trying to help, while others seemed stiff and posed like Jane and Col. Soft. So the film seemed to be alternating between a staged event and a very realistic scene of confusion. I found this jarring, but maybe that's just me.
The basic story is that a Bosnian and a Croat accidently get stuck in a trench together, along with the "body" of the Bosnian's- Ciki - friend Cera, which the Serb's - Nino - partner has placed a mine under so that when the weight is removed the thing explodes. Cera wasn't dead, just unconscious and so all three are in need of help, which eventually leads the French "smurfs" (for their blue helmets) to try and get them some help. The UN high command is reluctant to let them try to help because the mission would endanger the lives of these UN soldiers. The French Sergeant meets up with a reporter and they invent a little scheme (with cute "flirting") to use the media to force the UN high command to let him do something or else make the UN look terrible.
I found the scenes in the trench to be boring and stiff. I liked Nino, who was reasonable until provoked, but I couldn't stand Ciki. He was hostile to everyone from Nino to the French soldier who offered him bandages for his wound, and just made everything more difficult. As I saw it, the whole situation was his fault anyway, as while he was listening to the old Serb explain the mine to Nino he had plenty of oppurtunity to shoot. No where in the film was that acknowledged. It's convenient to blame the UN or the US for your problems and we get so caught up in that we tend to wash away responsibility from the aggressing party.
There are two characters who really carry the story, Cera and Marchand, and I liked that both were equally helpless in the end and that both were the most rational of the cast. I liked that the director distinguished between the UNPROFOR troops and the high command. They were French here but they could have been any nationality but were decent and courageous in their way, even if you pity poor Michel in trench with them. The UN command could have been any nationality as well, the Americans in Somalia for example, but the whole idea of foreign intervention seems ridiculous because, well, as outsiders what *can* they do without upsetting someone and sparking hostilities? I think the movie showed the two options at the end, using force and doing nothing, and neither did any good. The only way any lives could have been saved is if Ciki would have been more cooperative.
Overall, I liked the movie and wish there were more films about Bosnia.
on July 12, 2003
As soon as I finished watching this film I went onto the Academy database to find out what film won Best Picture the year that NO MAN'S LAND won Best Foreign Film. The year was 2001 and A BEAUTIFUL MIND won, which I watched last week (it's summer, I'm playing catch-up).
Nothing against A BEAUTIFUL MIND (which was certainly an excellent film,in spite of the controversy over what was fact and what was fiction), but were it not for the incredible ignorance of people who refuse to see films with subtitles, NO MAN'S LAND could have taken the top prize. This film never takes a false step-- even as it tackles the enormously controversial (there's that word again) subject of the conflict in Yugoslavia, the film refuses to take any side but one of rationality in a place that had none.
The situation is simply set up. A Croatian relief patrol, lost in fog, is killed by Serb forces except for one soldier, who falls into a trench between lines-- later found by a two-man Serb patrol looking to secure the area. Certainly the Serbs have been widely regarded as the "bad guys" by the court of public opinion (as well as The Hague), but in Nino (Rene Bitorajac) we are given not a villain but a young soldier who can spout rhetoric but really doesn't know what he's doing or why he's doing it. On the other hand, it is Nino's companion who rigs the mine beneath Cera (Filip Sovagovic) with the intent of blowing up whoever tries to recover the dead-- a decidedly atrocious act, particularly when Cera proves to be merely unconscious and thus has the rudest of awakenings when he realizes his situation. Then we have Cera's friend and fellow soldier, Ciki (Branco Djuric), who hates Nino not only for the war but for what has been perpetrated on his friend.
Lest you think that this is a film of wartime angst, I hasten to add that Nino, Ciki, and Cera are able to cope with their situation with dark humor ("Who started the war?" "You started it!" "You started it!" "You started it!" "Who has the gun? Now who started the war!") and ultimately some small level of cooperation in order to get out of the trench without having either side fire on them (their solution is both ingenious and funny). It's at this point the "alphabet soup" of cultures really begins. Both sides call in U.N. peacekeepers (colloquially referred to as "Smurfs"), who are French, a British television crew who has been monitoring the radio frequencies shows up to cover the developing story, and finally a bomb expert is called in to try to extricate Cera-- and the expert is German. Thank heavens for subtitles, because by this time everyone in the audience needs them!
Of course the situation, already tense, is exacerbated by the U.N., who is afraid to do anything lest they be accused of taking sides, and the camera crews, who offend the combatants by their mere presence. We are given so many elements here that I had no idea how film would end until it actually did-- there were so many ways it could have gone. Along the way we are given other characters to care about, especially Jane Livingstone, the British reporter (Katrin Cartlidge), who is after the story but also would like to see the U.N. forced into action, and Marchand, one of the U.N. peacekeepers(George Statdis), whose humanity and conscience will not allow him to simply walk away-- even when ordered to do just that.
Ultimately there are no winners in war, and to that degree this film IS an anti-war statement. But the main purpose here is to show what happens to human character in untenable situations. Roger Ebert, in his review, mentions that he was not prepared for the beauty of the film-- Yugoslavia is STILL a beautiful country, no matter how war-ravaged. The final image is one of stillness, aching in its simplicity-- just as Thoreau said "In Wildness is the Preservation of the World," preservation also lies in learning to be still.
on June 29, 2003
If you're looking for a hero war movie, like "wave the flag" type ones and so on, you won't like this movie. It does not contain screaming rednecks with M16 riffles, no action scenes, no military gadgets are used (except one murderous bouncing mine) nothing for the couch warrior, nothing for the weaposn addict, nothing for budweiser and BBQ steak consumers. If you're a marines or seals fan, your IQ is probably (with some exceptions) not high enough to enjoy this movie.
This movie is about how stupid war can be, how mean the circumstances can be, how stupid the people in charge can be. There is nothing cool in wars. The heroes are loosers even though they may become successful businessmen and women after the war. Unless a nation defends it's own territory, there is no reason to participate in a war. The absurdity of war is reflected by this movie better than many movies before. If you are a war fan and have the patience to watch this movie to the end and understand it, you will probably change your mind.
The serbian/croatian/bosnian conflict destroyed one of the main centres of European culture, that was Sarajevo. One of the actors in this movie, Branko Djuric, was one of the members of the comedy group "Toplista Nadrealista" that was one of the best political comedy shows I ever saw in my life. Emir Kusturica, one of the most acclaimed independent directors in the business, was also working in Sarajevo. Not to mention the multitude of rock and pop bands emerging from Sarajevo. Yougoslavia was a country that had 4 (no other country on earth had that many) centers of major culture: Belgrade, Ljublijana, Sarajevo and Zagreb. The artists colaborated and there were huge synergy flows between the 4 cities. The war ended that. At this time, the region (there is no real YU anymore) is licking its wouds and tries to recover. However it will take a long time until the hate (that is so perfectly reproduced in the movie) will go away and the artists will find the way to each other again.