No Man's Land

At some point in No Man's Land, a reporter remarks about the absurdity of war, which, in a nutshell, perfectly describes the aims of this movie. Writer/director Danis Tanovic (Budenje) manages to create an anti-war story that is very powerful, paradoxically through its broad use of riotously funny humor. No Man's Land, from Bosnia and Herzegovina, just won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film at the 2002 Oscars. The bulk of the film takes place in a trench between Bosnian and Serbian lines in 1993 (hence the title). The war is going strong, and neither side is willing to compromise for peace. Through a bizarre twist of fate, two soldiers, one Bosnian and one Serb find themselves at a standoff with each other.

Chiki (Branko Djuric, Poker, Blues za Saro) is a wizened Bosnian soldier who got lost the previous night. Instead of making it to the Bosnian camp, his company ended up dangerously close to Serb lines. The Serb in the trench is Nino (Rene Bitorajac, Bogorodica, Garcia), a fresh recruit who knows little about war. There is actually another person in the trench; Cera (Filip Sovagovic, The Last Will, Promasaj), heavily injured and resting on a mine that will explode if he moves. The standoff is made worse given that nobody outside the trench knows exactly who is in there. Chiki and Nino have no desire to kill each other, so they end up bickering like children. The oddest moment comes when they are arguing about which side started the war. Apparently, the winner in the argument is the one pointing the gun at the other.

No Man's Land goes in no predictable direction. Just when one thinks it can only go in one direction, Tanovic throws viewers for a loop and makes things even more absurd. UNPROFOR soldiers hear about the situation, and intervene, although they are not supposed to. Reporters then find out about the situation, which makes everything all the more complicated. All the while, Tanovic has the inherent ridiculousness of the whole thing rising to near farcical levels. Although it focuses on large, encompassing issues like war and hatred, No Man's Land has lots of little, bizarre, inane moments between Nino and Chiki that help to humanize the situation. Not only is this a funny film, but a smart film. Tanovic deftly uses irony to illustrate his many points on war in general. And the thing is, he's right on many counts. It also helps that he keeps the level of violence down to a minimum, especially compared to most war movies these days.

Tanovic's most impressive feat in No Man's Land is his indictment of the war, and his adroit use of humor in slamming what he feels is unnecessary violence. He is particularly critical of the upper levels of UNPROFOR, the task force sent by the United Nations to monitor (but not interfere in) the fighting. He portrays them as petty bureaucrats concerned with politics and not with human rights. UNPROFOR soldiers like French soldier Marchand (Train of Life, Le Pantalon), who truly wants to make a difference, finds his hands tied by his superiors. Tanovic makes the point that both sides are not too sure what they are fighting for. Instead of continuing to fight, maybe they should sit down and rationally talk about matters.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 37 minutes, Bosnian, French, and English with English subtitles, Rated R for violence and language.

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