The Serbian Conflict, as it’s most widely known, involved various sides for around 8 years in what is the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. There were the Serbs, the Croats, the Bosnians, and various other ethnic groups who sought independence from each other. Most of the times the other groups gang up to fight the Serbs, who were looking to “unify” the country by wiping out everyone who wasn’t one of them. The term “ethnic cleansing” came into being with this conflict, as the Serbs sought to, quite literally, eradicate anyone who wasn’t them. Years later, after the conflict had been all but settled and the country split into different countries, the Serbs decided to continue their “unifying” ways with Kosovo. It so happened that NATO and the U.S. decided enough was enough, and bombed the hell out of the Serbs. I guess the Serbs were expecting another U.N.-like “non-intervention intervension,” only to find that the U.N. wasn’t in charge anymore.
Danis Tanovic’s No Man’s Land opens with a Bosnian squad on their way to the front lines when they become lost in a thick fog at night; the squad settles down, only to wake up in the morning to find themselves on the wrong side of the lines. In no time at all, the Serbian lines gun down the Bosnians, leaving only one apparent survivor, Chiki (Branko Djuric), who finds escape in a stretch of trench that runs through the field between the Bosnian and Serb lines. The Serbs send two soldiers to the trench to find out if anyone is still alive. One of them is Nino (Rene Bitorajac), a relative newcomer to war, and is still too green to be effective.
When Nino’s colleague is shot dead by Chiki and Nino himself wounded, the two survivors find themselves trapped in the trench together, with the other person getting the upper hand on the other at various times. Complicating matters is Chiki’s fellow soldier Cera (Filip Sovagovic), who turns out not to be dead, and instead wakes up to find himself part of a booby trap that involves a deadly mine armed and ready to explode should he move. Trapped in the trenches with guns on each other, will Nino and Chiki give in to their hatred and kill each other? Will Cera move and kill all 3 of them? Or will the U.N. envoy do the work for them?
No Man’s Land is a satire with a bite. It doesn’t shy away from weaving scenes of graphic bloodshed with the absurdity of the U.N. involvement and the cavalier, vulture-like attitude of the world press. The movie is essentially a serious satire, with moments of humor that, when taken in context with the movie, isn’t actually funny as they are pathetic and absurd. If you come to No Man’s Land hoping to learn more about the conflict of the 1990s, then you’ll be disappointed, because the movie isn’t concern with placing blame on either side or trying to diagnose “what went wrong” that led up to the war. As it stands, Nino and Chiki blames each other for starting the war, for killing civilians, et cetera. What it all comes down to is that these two don’t really have a clue as to how the war started or whose side is worst. Nino is new to the war and Chiki, along with the immovable Cera, are just soldiers, fighting because they have to.
The trio’s problems grow worst when the U.N. gets involved, and this is where writer/director Tanovic shifts into full satire mode. The U.N. is shown as a pacifist army made up of a group of foreigners (French, German, British) who speaks only one common language, English, and who needs permission to do everything including, it seems, going to the bathroom. The U.N. is in Bosnia to look good, not to stop the war, and that point is made over and over. They’re there to get good press for the organization and are relatively unconcern with stopping the bloodshed. Their clothes are white, their uniforms spotless, and their weapons unfired.
Compare them to the beaten and battered Bosnians and Serbs who look on at the U.N. tanks and APCs as they drive by without much interest as if they didn’t actually exist. As one U.N. soldier observes, they (the U.N.) have the firepower to stop the war if they wanted to, so why don’t they? This seems to be the question that Tanovic is asking as well, since in real-life the U.N. really had little to no effect on the slaughter in the former Yugoslavia, and it took peace talks initiated by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to began the peace process.
Tanovic also sets his sights on the world media, but that is pretty much preaching to the choir, as most people already believe (and appropriately so) that the media are vultures that races to battlefields not to help anyone, but to get interviews. In that way, I could have done with less of the media bashing, since it goes without saying that the media are the most useless group of people in times of war.
This isn’t to say Tanovic is a complete basher of the U.N. We find sympathy with a French Sergeant, Marchand (Georges Siatidis), who embodies the very best of the U.N. — re: the reason the U.N. came into being in the first place. Marchand wants to help the Bosnians and Serbs and he’s tired of sitting idly by. It’s his pro-active response to the call for help from the trench that gets people over there, but he quickly runs into the wall that has become the present status of the U.N. — a bloated bureaucracy interested in giving out appearances of being involved, but really unable, or is unwilling, to actually get physically involved.
No Man’s Land offers no answers to the Yugoslavian conflict of the 1990s. Tanovic, like the rest of us, seems shock at the helplessness of an organization as vast and powerful as the U.N. to affect good in the world. If that’s the case, then what’s the point of its existence?
Danis Tanovic (director) / Danis Tanovic (screenplay)
CAST: Branko Djuric …. Chiki
Rene Bitorajac …. Nino
Filip Sovagovic …. Cera
Georges Siatidis …. Marchand
Serge-Henri Valcke …. Dubois