No Man's Land

The winner of the 2001 Foreign Language Oscar is a bare-knuckled, absurdly comic and at times unbearably tense look back at the madness of the Bosnian conflict. Bosnia, 1993. After a night spent lost in the fog-enshrouded countryside, a Bosnian relief squad awakes to find themselves only a few yards from the Serbian front line. Before the Bosnian soldiers...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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The winner of the 2001 Foreign Language Oscar is a bare-knuckled, absurdly comic and at times unbearably tense look back at the madness of the Bosnian conflict. Bosnia, 1993. After a night spent lost in the fog-enshrouded countryside, a Bosnian relief squad awakes to find themselves only a few yards from the Serbian front line. Before the Bosnian soldiers even have time to panic, the Serbs open fire. Most of the Bosnians are killed, but a shell from a Serbian tank blows Tchiki (Branko Djuric), a scruffy soldier in a Rolling Stones T-shirt, into the temporary safety of an abandoned trench in what is now the no man's land between the Serbian and Bosnian fronts; Tchiki arms himself and hides. A Serb commander, meanwhile, orders Nino (Rene Bitorajac), a young, inexperienced recruit, to accompany an older officer on an inspection tour to make sure there are no survivors. Once inside the trench, the older officer has an idea: He takes an American-made "bouncing" mine and buries it under the body of Tsera (Filip Sovagovic), one of Tchiki's fallen comrades. Now if anyone moves the body or otherwise takes pressure off the mine, it will detonate. No sooner is this nasty booby trap rigged than Tchiki bursts out of hiding, gun blazing. He kills the older Serb but only wounds Nino, and, against his better judgement, lets him live. They quickly fall to bickering over which side actually started the war, but soon have more pressing problems to deal with. In addition to needing to find a way out of the trench without getting shot by either side, Nino and Tchiki discover that Tsera is still very much alive. If he moves even the slightest bit, he'll blow them all to pieces. Other films have used the classic stalemate situation to express the no-win absurdity of the Bosnian war, notably the Serbian PRETTY VILLAGE, PRETTY FLAME (1996), but writer-director Danis Tanovic takes it one step further, taking to task the United Nations Protection Force (Tchiki derisively calls the blue and white clad UNPROFOR forces "Smurfs") for its "neutrality" and international media vultures for their by-any-means-necessary approach to newsgathering. The film, which at first looks as though it's progressing along HELL IN THE PACIFIC (1968) lines, unexpectedly becomes more like ACE IN THE HOLE (1951) and ends on a cruel, cynical note that would surely make Billy Wilder snort with approval. (In English, French and Bosnian, with English subtitles.)

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  • Released: 2001
  • Rating: R
  • Review: The winner of the 2001 Foreign Language Oscar is a bare-knuckled, absurdly comic and at times unbearably tense look back at the madness of the Bosnian conflict. Bosnia, 1993. After a night spent lost in the fog-enshrouded countryside, a Bosnian relief squa… (more)

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