Although the Bosnian War of 1992-1995 is off the radar for Americans (to put it mildly), it is the subject of three noteworthy films produced in the past year. In the Land of Blood and Honey, directed by Angelina Jolie, and As If I’m Not There, this year’s entry from Ireland, both deal with the horrific exploitation of women by Bosnian Serb forces. I’m guessing that neither is going to earn significant box office in Serbia. Serbs have complained that In the Land of Blood and Honey is not “balanced” because it doesn’t portray atrocities committed by Bosnian Muslims. Jolie has responded “The war was not balanced. I can’t understand people who are looking for a balance that did not exist.”
I am glad that In the Land of Blood and Honey and As If I’m Not There were made, but it’s the third film on the subject, Belvedere, that made the greatest impression on me. I don’t think it is so much because it was actually made by Bosnians, as that it takes place 15 years after the war ended and is an uncommon reminder that the traumas caused by war don’t stop the day the shooting and bombing does.
In July 1995, Serbian forces under the command of General Ratko Mladić massacred 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys. Fifteen years later, Ruvejda, her brother and sister and other survivors of the war are still living in a refugee camp called Belvedere. Ruvejda accepts the fact that her father, her husband and her children are dead, but she wants to learn the truth about how they were killed, and she wants to find their remains so she can give them a proper burial. It is a bleak existence presented in stark black and white. It is so bleak that her young nephew, Adnan, has had enough and, taking advantage of his skills as an accordion player, he applies for a role in the Serbian version of the reality TV show “Big Brother.” A schlumpish, harmless everyman, he is accepted as the token Bosnian.
In a reversal of the 1998 American film Pleasantville, the real world is shown in black and white, while the ridiculous fantasy world of reality TV is shown in color. Juxtaposing the worlds could have been manipulative and contrived, but director and screenwriter Ahmed Imamović makes his points in a dignified manner.