Monday, 12 March 2012

No Man's Land

Two opposing soldiers, trapped between the lines, and a third man lying on a land mine. Hilarity ensues? Far more tense than funny, but utilising satire effectively to make a point about the futility of modern war.

When Yugoslavia broke down from 1990-1992, several factions formed in its place, each fighting for its own territory in the former state. The Balkan war ensued; from 1991-1995, bitter struggles raged between a formally united people. Ultimately the conflict was resolved, and a section of land now belongs to each of Bosnia/Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. But somewhere in that time - on the front lines between Bosnian and Serb soldiers - the events of No Man's Land may have occurred...

No Man's Land is a grim comedy about the absurdity of modern warfare, and a vicious satire of the international community, and their oft shallow or vain attempts to intervene (in the form of both the UN and the Media). Caught between the two front lines, Ciki (a Bosniak) takes refuge in an abandoned trench in the middle of no-mans-land. Stuck with him is a Serbian called Nino, a nervous wreck after his superior is shot by Ciki. Complicating matters is Cikis friend Cera who, presumed dead, has been lain atop a spring-loaded mine by Nino's superior. He awakes to discover that if he moves more than an inch, they are all dead.

This is not an American blockbuster. There are few action scenes (only 3 low-key shootouts), and lots of dialogue - in a wide gamut of languages. This is very much a product of several European nations contributing to make a transnational film (although, the British come off pretty badly). The colour palette is particularly beautiful; it takes place in a lush European countryside - amongst vibrant, rolling hills. The location is so lovely, is incredible to think that there's a war going on! The film is shot and edited quite simply, spending most of its time inside the trench, where the three main characters talk, with only short scenes outside it to track the movements of the others.

The film plays like a situational comedy, with an absurd initial set up that quickly escalates: the UN and the Media are dragged in, and eventually a swarm of people surround the trench where one man continues to lay on the land mine. The frantic flock of interested parties is comical - as is the ridiculously over-the-top head of the UN (played by Simon Callow). But the film has a dark undertone, and the comedy serves to illustrate a very serious point. For all the bumbling about done by the observers, the focus of all of them never seems to be on helping the poor guy in the trench!

Only a few characters in the film act in a way that seems in any way admirable. One, a UN Frenchmen named Marchand, is fed up with the bureaucratic nature of the UN and takes his team out to the stranded soldiers against his superiors orders. When the big wigs shout him down, he leaks information to a journalist to create a media stir - all the time with the one goal in mind: help people. His plans are thwarted at every turn, and ultimately the situation is revealed to have been hopeless from the beginning, but still the fact remains, that Marchand is the beacon of goodness in a film where most everyone is nasty.

Another is the German bomb disposal expert, who delivers the news that the bomb cannot be defused. He tries, to the best of his ability, but can't undo what has been set in motion by arming the bomb. He sits on the ground next to Cera, and mourns with him.

Finally, Cera. Poor, doomed Cera. Though he starts the film clinging to his nationalistic pride, it is clear that the threat of dying at any moment has a profound effect on him. He sees the war as we do: futile. He groans as Ciki shoots Nino in the leg - to keep him in the trench out of some misplaced sense of paranoia. He cries when the two of them are killed; he understands the tension between them, but he has also seen them getting along. He understands that Nino was not so different from the Bosniaks. finally, Cera is silent. Calm and collected, even as everyone is leaving, even as the sun goes down, even as the movie fades to black, he lies still and peaceful atop the powder keg.

The land mine may represent the state that Europe or the world is in now or then - set to explode at any moment, breaking out in war - but the attitudes represented by Marchand, the German deminer, and Cera, reflect the kind of attitudes that are necessary to prevent, or at least work against, war. A fierce desire to fight to protect, to selflessly lay it on the line for others, to seek mutual communication and understanding, to mourn when it's time to mourn, and be at peace with what is already lost... 3 characters in all the hubbub demonstrate traits that are necessary for peace to prevail. It's little wonder the war rages on.

I've ranted for too long, there's so much that could be said about attitudes and actions in this film. No Man's Land may not be the most technically achieved film of the generation, but it makes up for it in spades with the scripting of the characters and situation.

UPDATE: I went poking around the internet last night and added my blog to Stumbleupon and Technorati. My page views have just skyrocketed (y'know, for me).

So if you've just stumbled upon this site: welcome! Feel free to stay, read and comment on anything here - especially if you disagree with me! Respectfully, preferably.

And if you're a Technorati robot looking for a code, here it is: BBP5Y7N4BYNQ 

I feel like I'm moving up in the blogosphere...