GRBAVICA: THE LAND OF MY DREAMSNR
With Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams, filmmaker Jasmila Zbanic scores solidly on a number of fronts. She not only shows remarkable filmmaking skills, but has fashioned a powerful human drama exposing family dynamics and the deep wounds that war exacts.
Although this is Zbanic's first feature, she has written a taut, involving narrative and has cast the film impeccably, enabling dazzling performances from all players. And with a background in documentaries, she creates for her characters a vibrant microcosmic setting, spewing the acrid aroma of death and destruction.
All signs point to this Golden Bear winner at the 2006 Berlin Festival and Bosnia and Herzegovina's official entry for the 2006 foreign-language Oscar attracting significant art-house crowds, especially if the film grabs that deserved nomination.
The action unrolls in the battle-scarred, post-war Sarajevo neighborhood of Grbavica, where widowed single mother Esma (Mirjana Karanovic) works as a cocktail waitress in a disco in order to support herself and feisty 12-year-old daughter Sara (Luna Mijovic, in a stunning debut).
While Esma's traumatic war experiences send her to group-therapy sessions at a local women's center, where she takes handouts rather than share her war experiences, Sara is dealing with the first pangs of love with classmate Samir (Kenan Catic), who, like Sara, lost a father to war. That he too is troubled is signaled by the gun he totes, which may or may not figure later.
But Sara's circumstances are also complicated as mystery enshrouds the alleged "noble" death of her father, who, Esma was told, died a shahid, or war martyr. That murkiness complicates matters when a certificate attesting to his honorable demise is needed in order for Sara to receive a much-needed discount for a coveted school trip. Meanwhile, Esma scrambles to pull the money together and forges a promising relationship with disco bouncer Pelda (Leon Lucev), who dreams of escaping Sarajevo.
The texture and nuances of the tattered city are as alive as the characters themselves, all palpably aching for a recovery from horror. The explosive denouement, as logical as it is unexpected, provides an emotional wallop that suggests the compassionate and cruel extremes of human behavior. But the power of Grbavica has a paradoxical side effect, reminding that no matter the quality of an anti-war film or the filmmaker's intentions, the message for peace often travels no farther than the screen.