NO MAN’S LAND

Director: Danis Tanović
Year: 2001
Country: Bosnia-Herzegovina

My journey through the ‘B’s has now brought me back to Europe, with the small Balkan state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. No Man’s Land was 2001’s winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Picture – the first and only Bosnian film to achieve this.

The film is a dark comedy set on a battlefield during the Bosnian War, and the bulk of it takes place in a single trench halfway between the enemy lines. Two soldiers from opposing sides, Čiki and Nino, find themselves stranded in the trench after a failed assault. The situation becomes even more complicated when Čiki discovers the trench’s third inhabitant – his comrade Cera, who is badly wounded but lying on a landmine which will detonate if he moves.

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The three main characters are trapped in an enclosed space with a live explosive.

Suspicious and distrustful of each other, the three men are forced to stay put while a ceasefire is negotiated and they can be rescued. Meanwhile, an ever growing cast of international supporting characters, including a British reporter, a French UN Peacekeeper, and a German bomb-defusal expert work to get them out. Fitting with the film’s offbeat style of gallows humour, the premise even sounds like a joke: “Two Bosniaks and a Serb walk into a trench…”

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Čiki and Nino are forced to create an uneasy friendship while stranded together.

No Man’s Land doesn’t sound like a comedy, but there’s a darkly humorous side to the film that runs all the way through. It comes from Čiki and Nino’s constant banter about which of them is on the “good side” of the war, and their back-and-forth attempts to get the drop on each other, combined with the sheer escalating absurdity of the negotiations and ongoing media coverage. There are moments of poignancy, to be sure, and the futility of war is a major theme, but No Man’s Land is not nearly as bleak as some of my previous entries.

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No Man’s Land has a comic streak, but is still a war film at heart.

No Man’s Land follows closely on the heels of the last war film I wrote about: Belarus’s Fortress of War. But while that film focused almost entirely on spectacle, with its enormous and bombastic battle sequences, No Man’s Land has a greater emphasis on characters and relationships. There are only a handful of named characters, and most of them are trapped together in that trench. This tighter focus, and its more disciplined approach to storytelling, make No Man’s Land easier to recommend.

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