"Grbavica": The Roots of Pain By Géza Csákvári

in 3rd Moveast International Film Festival Pécs

by Géza Csákvári

Bosnia-Herzegovina is a country divided by three religions and the Balkan-wars generally have continued to be an inspiration for filmmakers and a very interesting, even attractive subject for admirers of the motion picture. While Danis Tanovic’s 2001 war drama No Man’s Land debuted as a comet in Cannes (and eventually won an Oscar too), in 2006 the consequences are much more important.

With her first feature Grbavica Bosnian director Jasmila Zbanic shows a drama which could happen nowadays, but also goes back high in the past: the roots of pain, suffering and depression are remounting for the siege of Sarajevo. So, Grbavica is a film about war without actually showing it.

A mother-daughter relationship is always a tough scenario, particularly when the past of the two people concerned is not so straightforward. There is a secret in Grbavica between these two major Bosnian characters, Esma and her daughter Sara: one of them wants to forget, the other one wants the dig up the past. Similar things happen in the city. Ten, maybe fifteen years after the siege they are still recovering the mass graves inside and around the city. It’s a painful thing to do, but much more painful to leave loved ones lying in an unknown hole. They need to bury them, so they could rest and live in peace.

Esma is raising her kid alone with no sign of the father. Sara believes that he is a war hero who died for their people. It’s a bit suspicious that her mother is not too soulful to yarn. The only thing she says, that Sara has her father’s hair. The problem evolves when Sara needs a proof of her father’s heroism, so she could leave for a class trip for much less money than normal. Esma tries everything to collect the money, because she is not able to produce it — because of the truth.

In a very powerful scene the two women clash. Two generations: the one, which cannot forget, and the other one, which is without a past and consciousness, come to blows in a cathartic moment when both of them have to face the past. The fact: several Serb soldiers raped Esma in a prison camp. She doesn’t even know who Sara’s father might be.

The title of film — Grbavica — also has a special meaning, a major part in the storyline. This part of Sarajevo is a symbol. It had been occupied during the siege and after this many citizens felt that they have lost something. The people were even spiritually humiliated, the one’s that stayed, but also those who left. Zbanic shows this frustration throughout the picture in ruins, struggles, bombed buildings. This is not by using technical tricks or movements, but the almost still camerawork is a very strong and effective device. We remember the pictures and the gloomy atmosphere. Sometimes depicting less is so much more.

The last scenes of the film are also very memorable. After finding out the truth, both of the girls have to face themselves to be able to carry on. Sara leaves for the class trip with a bald head. She had shaven her hair when she found out she didn’t have hair like her father. She has gone through the purgation and shares the pain now. There is a new connection between them and a very moving closure to the film that is not at all attitudinizing.