Running Time: 109 minutes
US Certificate: Not Yet Rated UK Certificate: 18
Before Angelina Jolie’s publicity snowball Land of Blood and Honey, there was As If I Am Not There, a quieter, less trumpeted depiction of a very nasty side to the Bosnian War of 1992-95. Juanita Wilson’s movie – also coming from outside the Balkans – is based on the true stories of the treatment of the civilian population that emerged at the International Criminal Tribunal at The Hague.
The story follows Samira (Petrovic), a modern teacher from Sarajevo who goes to teach in a small village just as the conflict is beginning to escalate. Soon after she arrives, Serbian soldiers come to the village, kill all the males and transport the females to camps to use as labour or sex. Samira gets trapped in a cycle of abuse by the Serbian soldiers but learns to do anything she can to survive the war, including getting friendly with the camp commander (Stukan).
As If I am Not There is the most harrowing, haunting movie I have seen in a long while. The story is brutally realistic and takes a personal look at living through a war with no rules for civilians or soldiers. The Balkans conflict was such a complex affair that there is no point trying to tackle it as a whole but instead it’s best to do it this way and take one group of people’s experience and recount it in detail.
There is a good balance to leave you with lasting memories, and things to think about, without going over the top and becoming melodramatic or overly-graphic. At times, Wilson leaves the implied brutality to the imagination and at others the viewer is subjected to prolonged, distressing scenes. Natasa Petrovic is amazing as the lead character and victim of the camps brutal regime as with her youth and pretty looks she provides the audience with someone they can relate to and a central figure who shows both strength and fragility. The story does well to touch a wide-range of issues and not only concentrates on the events during the war but also those, like war babies, that were just as troublesome afterwards.
It's Got: Excellent performance from Natasa Petrovic and others, realism over melodrama, a harrowing story that's not too hard to watch
It Needs: A little bit of prior knowledge but not a lot, for Stellan Skarsgård not to be so high up from credits as there are others more worthy who say more than him with his one line
Alternatives:Casualties of War, Land of Blood and Honey, Schindler's List
A harrowing tale from the human side of the Bosnian War in the Nineties that is well-acted and excellently-directed. Moving, haunting, disturbing but also a must see.