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No Man's Land


No Man's Land

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The term "trench warfare" takes on a new meaning in No Man's Land, the feature debut of writer-director Danis Tanovic, a best-screenplay winner at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. Set in 1993, at the height of the Bosnian/Serb conflict, it places characters from both sides in a trench that serves as the conflict's dividing line. Much of the action revolves around the tense relationship between a fresh-faced Serb (Rene Bitorajac), who looks as if he doesn't know where he is, and a Bosnian (Branko Djuric) in a Rolling Stones T-shirt, who looks like he'd rather be anywhere else. Unable to communicate with either side, they're forced to work together to end their standoff, a situation complicated by the presence of Djuric's fellow soldier Filip Sovagovic. Taken for dead and subsequently used by the Serbs as a booby trap for a landmine, he opens his eyes only to be told that any movement could kill him and everyone around him. Sovagovic's character, and the situation as a whole, may sound like a forced metaphor for the conflict, but to Tanovic's credit, he keeps it from seeming strained until at least the halfway point. Well-acted all around, and memorable as a war film in which most of the battles unfold in conversation, No Man's Land loses its way when it loses its intense focus. Abandoning its main characters, the film expands to include commanders on both sides, U.N. soldiers both lowly and powerful, and an overzealous British reporter (Katrin Cartlidge, channeling Geraldine Chaplin in Nashville). In some respects, No Man's Land might be most remarkable for what it's not. Other homegrown treatments of the various conflicts in the former Yugoslavia—particularly the haunting films of Srdjan Dragojevic—opt for a kind of heightened black comedy that captures the situation's absurdity while sometimes losing track of its humanity. Opting instead to study a few characters closely, No Man's Land suggests that the two sides have more in common than either could admit, making it all the more disappointing when the possibility of peace slips away. With a bit more command on Tanovic's part, that fine point could have been allowed more of an impact.