Thursday, February 21, 2002

Between a rock and a hard place

Movie: No Man's Land (2001)

Posted on Thu, Feb 21, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Our Rating: 3.50

As armed conflict rages in the Balkans of 1993, two Bosnian relief workers and a Serbian soldier become trapped in a trench on the booby-trapped front lines. One of the Bosnians, Cera (Filip Sovagovic), finds himself resting on a bouncing mine, a deadly device that explodes when the pressure placed upon it is released. (Having also played a crucial role in "Behind Enemy Lines," this formidable weapon surely deserved a best-supporting-actor citation on a year-end list or two.) Enemies Chiki (Branko Djuric) and Nino (Rene Bitorajac) bicker violently over Cera's motionless body, and their standoff progressively attracts the attention of their superiors, the United Nations' protection force and the news media -- all of whom have selfish reasons for helping the combatants or trying to ignore them.

Director/writer Danis Tanovic, a former student at the Sarajevo Film Academy, was obviously driven to make a genuine anti-war movie -- not just a war movie with occasional sops to the lefty crowd. An able cast wrings the maximum drama out of his words, particularly Georges Siatidis as Marchand, a U.N. sergeant who argues against the evils of impartiality.

Too bad Tanovic couldn't figure out what sort of anti-war movie he wanted to make. "No Man's Land" wanders from gritty military suspense to would-be absurdity of the "Catch-22" stripe, finding far greater success in the former than in the latter. As for the leggy blond secretary who performs playmate duty for the U.N.'s snooty Colonel Soft (Simon Callow) -- well, she appears to have escaped from one of the detente-era James Bond pictures. I half-expected someone to introduce her as Sara Jevo.


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