No Man's Land - A Satire On The Absurdities of War

                           There are essentially two kinds of war films: those that present battle as an heroic spectacle and those that show the grim, grotesque, dehumanizing side of it. Back in the days of world war, in 1940's and 50's , or the cold war during 60's the American war films were defined by scenes and images of predictable glory - for example, a hero striding into the thick of the struggle and emerging victorious. But, in the wake of Vietnam, the tide turned, with movies like Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Saving Private Ryan, and The Thin Red Line exposing the absurdity and waste inherent in even the most justifiable war. 

                            I was pretty shocked to know that a Bosnian movie won 2001's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, especially after seeing the presumed front-runner, Amelie. I also that hoped our Indian movie 'Lagaan' would deliver the award for us. After seeing the film, I can't say that I completely agree with giving it the Oscar over Amelie, but I have to agree that it was a very good, award-worthy film. The movie is 'No Man's Land' , a black comedy about the chaos in the former Yugoslavia.

      No Man's Land takes place during the Bosnian-Serbian war, in 1993. The title refers to a patch of land between the Bosnian and Serb lines. The Bosnians are a bunch of freedom fighters armed with cast-off weapons and wearing street clothes. The Serbs are more professional and well-equipped. 

                A group of Bosnian soldiers are lost in the fog between enemy lines. In the morning light, they are sitting ducks for Serbian soldiers. Ciki (Branko Djuric) survives and finds shelter in a bunker. A Serbian commander sends two soldiers to check out the trench. Ciki kills one and wounds the other soldier, Nino (Rene Bitorajac). 

                 They quickly discover, though, that the "dead" Bosnian man Cera (Filip Sovajovic) now lying on the mine is not dead, and that neither of them can leave the trench for fear of being shot by either the Bosnians or the Serbs, who are perched on opposite ridges wondering what is going on. However, the dangerous situation becomes increasingly tense with the arrival of the U.N. and the media.

             The film is exciting in two big ways: its simplicity of story, and a new understanding of the specific psychology and reality of the war, its singular madness. Director Tanovic never dismisses the seriousness of warfare. Instead he questions the point of it all within the context of his comedy. Two enemies get acquainted in a trench. They discover their common humanity, but instead of the usual cliche, where they come together on common ground, Tanovic gives us something much more real, much more tense and much more funny. 

                    The other aspect of No Man's Land is a broad condemnation of United Nations' "aid" - how politics and egos cause well-intentioned efforts to decay into exercises in incompetence. The media also plays a prime role - the military ends up acting because they are fearful of a public relations nightmare. So they manipulate what the cameras see to serve their own ends. 

                   The muti-national cast features mostly unknown faces. Branko Djuric, Rene Bitorajac, and Filip Sovagovic play the three men in the trench with an intensity that makes each of them entirely believable. The war is being waged in a peaceful valley, and so the camera is quiet, the compositions uncluttered. Language is a big part of the story in "No Man's Land," with everyone trying to find a language in which to communicate -- English, French, Bosnian. At one point, a German mine expert is alone with the soldier on top of the mine. The fact that they can't talk to each other only adds to the tension. 

                No Man's Land poses some disturbing questions about the nature of hatred and the wars it spawns. You could describe that the movie belongs to the genre of comedy, tragedy, farce, thriller and war. Life, as lived on earth, has all these elements. So, Tanovic's, "No Man's Land," stumbles onto a story with the largeness of life and with a art grand enough to capture it. 

               No Man's Land is a great war movie because it's confident enough in its emotions and convictions. Those in search of mindless heroism and adrenaline-fueled sequences, need look no further than Behind Enemy Lines. Those on a quest for a film with more grit and substance will find it in No Man's Land

Memorable Quotes

"Neutrality does not exist in the face of murder. Doing nothing to stop it is, in fact, choosing. It is not being neutral."

"Chiki: Do you even know what's the difference between a pessimist and an optimist?
Nino: No, what?
Chiki: A pessimist thinks things can't be worse. An optimist knows they can."

[2 UN guys are watching a Mine Expert trying to defuse a bomb]. 1st guy :" They say a Mine Expert only ever makes one mistake” 2nd guy : “ Two mistakes” 1st guy :  “ How come?” 2nd guy : “ The first is when he chooses the job.”


No Man's Land - Imdb


Amb said...

Superb insight, i have seen this movie and found it very intriguing.

I consider Saving private ryan as one of the best war movie, reason is-
it highlights patriotism,heroism(mindless & extravagantly glorified sometimes)but it also shows the grim effects of war in bits and pieces.

Eastwood directed 'letters from iwo jima' is solid movie

Arun Kumar said...

@ambar, Thanks for your comment. You are right, 'Saving Private Ryan,' is great for its realistic feel, and 'Letters From Iwo Jima' is excellent, because it portrayed the mentality of the soldiers.

Protik Basu said...

No Man's land succeeds with its black humour. Showing an absurd position which brings out the worst and the best, the real person within. Yet what it shows at the end is that war is overwhelming and a complete farce...the absurdity is war itself, not the people. There are no victors and no winners, only victims. Looking at Bosnia today, that truth comes out even more starkly...

Watch "Flags of our fathers" too...somthing of the same line - of how war imagery mythologies war "heroes"...and how it affects the ones who are a part of it..

Arun Kumar said...

@Protik Basu, Thanks for your comment. You are right, 'In a war there is no winners, only victims.' Not only in Bosnia, all the wars around the globe has wrecked the lives of people.
I watched "Flags of our Fathers" too, and especially like this quote, "Heroes are something we create, something we need. It's a way for us to understand what's almost incomprehensible. But for these men, the risks they took, the wounds they suffered, they did that for their buddies. They may have fought for their country but they died for their friends."