No Man’s Land (review)
A festival favorite around the world and winner of the best screenplay award at Cannes this year, Danis Tanovic’s No Man’s Land is a view of the strife in the former Yugoslavia that only a Bosnian could make, by turns mordantly funny and tragically affecting.
Bosnian Tchiki (Branko Djuric), a member of an irregular army — his “uniform” consists of khakis, a Rolling Stones t-shirt, and Converse sneakers, and he carries a duct-taped rifle — and Nino (Rene Bitorajac), a far-better equipped but inexperienced Serbian soldier, find themselves stranded together in a trench between lines. At first, this could be a story of enemy soldiers in any war, full of the ironies of war — Tchiki puts himself in mortal danger in order to retrieve a cigarette lighter; he should be lucky to live long enough to die of cancer — and the coincidences that occur when neighbor fights neighbor — Tchiki and Nino discover they knew the same girl in Banja Luka; and they might have managed to work things out, survive their uneasy truce long enough to get back to their own lines and kill each other the proper way.
But modern complications, ones that could never have been a factor in the Civil War or WWII, get in the way. There’s the “bouncing mine” in the trench with them, a nightmare of a weapon, made in the good ole U.S. of A. with American ingenuity, of course — when you step on it, it leaps into the air before exploding, in order to do the most damage. (Think of it as the weapons equivalent of the new American movie about Bosnia, Behind Enemy Lines: it gets in your face so that you don’t miss the point it’s trying to make.) And then there’s the duo of the UN and the mass media, as represented by French peacekeeper Sergeant Marchand (Georges Siatidis) and British TV journalist Jane Livingstone (Katrin Cartlidge: From Hell). The former is tired of sitting around doing nothing and leaps into action, against orders, to help the stranded men; the latter reduces an impossible situation to a sound bite and the artificial excitement of a breaking-news story; both, in their self-serving desire to make themselves feel better by trying to help, only make things worse.
Tense and, ultimately, emotionally devastating, No Man’s Land uses the blackest of humor to create the most subtle of satires — because it does not exaggerate at all: it merely highlights the absurdity of reality.