War and more war
No Man’s Land is an effective war movie that uses dark comedy and pure horror to great effect, leaving an indelible mark on your brain by the time credits roll.
Produced in Bosnia, and directed by Danis Tanovic, the film is healthy competition for Amelie at this year’s Academy Awards, where it is nominated for Best Foreign-language Film. The movie goes into the trenches, literally, as a Bosnian and a Serbian soldier try to deal with a fallen soldier in a major predicament that I won’t divulge, but seemingly every other critic in the world has. (God, I hate that!)
The opening sequence is a stunner, as we see a group of Bosnian soldiers being led to the front and getting stuck in nighttime fog. When that fog clears, they are in for a terrible surprise, the carnage resulting in a surviving Bosnian (Branko Djuric) stranded in a trench. He manages to capture a Serbian (Rene Bitorajac) on patrol, with both needing to join forces and face a dilemma that, once again, I will not give away.
The movie functions as some sort of strange, M*A*S*H -type satire as U.N. peacekeeping forces intervene in the problem, much like football referees conferencing on a penalty. Donning blue helmets—the soldiers refer to them as The Smurfs—they attempt to remedy the situation, getting the press involved.
The interaction between the press and the soldiers is often very funny and creates a situation where multiple languages, including English, are flying back and forth.
While much humor is present, No Man’s Land has an evil underbelly, and it works toward a shocking, depressing conclusion. This has always been a tough war to comprehend, but this film manages to cast an interesting light on what was a totally bizarre situation.A lame love story complicates and eventually derails Harrison’s Flowers, a strange Hollywood take on the Bosnian war.
While the film does a decent job of depicting the atrocities of the Balkan conflicts, it should’ve completely discarded its melodramatic, love-conquers-all theme and spent its time focusing on the war, the hell it put the people of Yugoslavia through and the international journalists who were crazy enough to try to photograph the mess.
Giving an electric performance is Adrien Brody as Kyle Morris, an American photojournalist intent on thrusting himself into the worst possible situations he can find in order to ensure that history is recorded. His story is riveting, but such is not the case of the American woman he is babysitting (Andie McDowell) who has come to the Balkans to find her photojournalist husband, Harrison (David Straithairn).
In a miscalculated move, director/co-writer Elie Chouraqui puts the focus of the movie on McDowell’s trials and tribulations in the search for her husband, with the war simply acting as background noise. While some of the depictions of ethnic cleansing are appropriately horrifying, the ridiculousness of McDowell’s quest is too much of a distraction.
The war depictions, while sometimes effective, are often sloppy. During a tank attack, Serbian forces are seen going into death throes that look melodramatic, ill-timed and phony.
No Man’s Land, the Bosnian film that received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign-language Film, does a far better job of portraying the horrors of war, and the strangeness of the Balkan conflicts. It maintained a sense of focus, while Harrison’s Flowers is all over the place, an annoying trait.
Brody saves this one from being a terrible movie. Harrison’s Flowers confuses more than it informs and entertains.