"It's Hard to Be Nice": The Importance of Being Earnest

in 25th Miami International Film Festival

by Géza Csákvári

No one, especially a filmmaker, can avoid the historical facts of the latest Balkan wars if he wants to tell a story set in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a country still divided by three religions. The conflicts of this region have inspired movies both aesthetically ecstatic and thoroughly political, most prominent among them Danis Tanovic’s Oscar-winning war drama No Man’s Land, which premiered at Cannes in 2001. Years later, the hunt for truth (remember Jasmin Durakovic’s Nafaka?) has given way to the exploration of consequences. When Jasmila Zbanic won a Golden Bear at the Berlinale for Grbavica, a powerful portrayal of people still bearing the scars of war (domestic, psychological, and emotional), it was a sign that Balkan conflict — Bosnian not least — was all but guaranteed to remain onscreen.      

As the first film that tries to speak lightly, even a bit commercially about the state of souls in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Srdjan Vuletic’s It’s Hard To Be Nice (Tesko je biti fin) — his follow-up to the prize-winning Summer in the Golden Valley (Ljeto u zlatnoj dolini, 2003) — aims to take a big step forward. In this, Vuletic has succeeded with critics, but, unfortunately, not with festivals–which, since the Sarajevo premiere, haven’t taken up the cause.      

Trying to be “nice”, our hero Fudo (Sasa Petrovic, of whom the Miami fest’s Grand Jury made special mention) is a Sarajevo taxi driver who has fallen into a major midlife crisis that has him dealing with postwar “businessmen” — criminals, in fact — by giving them tips on breaking and entering. His wife Azra (Daria Lorenci) has had enough of Fudo’s secret life and is preparing to leave him. So Fudo decides he’ll change his life from nasty and dangerous to nice and calm. But that proves easier said than done. By taking money for a new taxi from a smug lowlife named Sejo (Emir Hadzihafisbegovic), Fudo becomes the perfect target of blackmail. The film asks: Is it merely hard to be nice or is it completely impossible? Turns out even a fusillade isn’t enough to break Fudo of his macho habits — but the risk of losing his family is. The twist of Vuletic’s film is its suggestion that being “nice”, possible or not, isn’t enough to survive. Fudo, like so many Bosnian people, is faced with the greater challenge of offering forgiveness.      

Thus It’s Hard to Be Nice becomes a perfect parable of the crucial steps that have to be made by all of Fudo’s countrymen, including those in government — to seek normal lives despite economic instability and terrible memories. With a perfect mix of sex, violence, and humor, Vuletic’s film does its part to remind us that not so long ago there was a civil war even in Europe. The journey to being nice is a long one for each of us, but hope springs eternal along the way — or so the movie’s final scene suggests.