No Man's Land Nutshell Review
Writer/Director Danis Tanovic's debut film, No Man's Land, won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2002. Tanovic was born in the Bosnia & Herzegovina region of the former Yugoslavia & sets the story during the heaviest fighting between Serbs & Croats in the Croatian War for Independence (1991-1995). In a war filled with unspeakable horrors, including ethnic cleansing, systematic rape & imprisonment, Tanovic crafts a story of 2 soldiers, one Croat, one Serbian, trapped in a trench between the warring factions, distilling the war to these two men. That his story is filled with great humor, the absurdities of war & amazing degrees of pathos is a testament to the first time filmmaker.
When a rag tag Bosnian relief unit gets lost in the fog, trying to get to the front lines, they are mowed down by the clearly superior Serbian forces, with only a couple of them managing to find shelter in a trench that divides the enemy lines. The Serbian side sends 2 men out to the trench to make sure everyone is dead, but they too become trapped in the trench. What boils down to an ever changing power dynamic within the trench & ultimately brings in UN peace keeping forces, is a pitch perfect reflection of the political absurdity of war, the UN's ultimately misguided idea of 'peacekeeping' within a war zone & the fundamental similarities & twisted differences that have been the cause of war for time immemorial. Tanovic's script doesn't choose sides between the 2 trapped men, but draws clear distinctions between the warring sides that are both subtle (like uniforms & supplies) & obvious (the reference to atrocities). At its most brilliant, the film is about just the 2 men & their will to survive in an obviously crazy situation. That they ultimately cannot overcome their ingrained & propagandized prejudices is the true tragedy of this story & ultimately a reflection on the root cause of war, hatred & injustice.