Harrison’s Flowers (review)

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When her husband, Newsweek photojournalist Harrison Lloyd (David Strathairn: Simon Birch), goes missing on assignment in the Balkans, fellow Newsweeker Sarah (Andie MacDowell: Town and Country), goes in search of him. Set in 1991 amidst the beginnings of civil war in Yugoslavia, this is a brutal film, in every right way: an antidote to the CNN-ification of war news, here is a frank, realistic depiction of total, practically apocalyptic war, one in which civilians and journalists are targeted and an entire nation is laid ruin. An excellent companion to Warriors, the BBC’s astonishing film about UN peacekeepers in Bosnia, Harrison’s Flowers is by turns romantically hopeful and sickeningly horrific, as Sarah, sheltered American that she is, wanders into a situation so unexpectedly horrible that you can’t help but feel sorry for the loss of her naivété… and our own. Director Elie Chouraqui — who also helped adapt Isabel Ellsen’s novel for the screen — gives us surreal battlefields, like something out of WWI, and grisly images of ethnic cleansing. Too horrible to be fiction, we’d never believe it if it weren’t true, and we share Sarah’s journey into the hellish insanity of the world with the same dumbfoundment. The film presents an intense dose of reality — too intense for some, maybe — and it leaves us with a bitter aftertaste. It’s the acrid tang of history — the tales of Bad Things, the kind that get remembered — happening right on our temporal doorstep, too close for comfort, too close to home.

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