No Man’s Land (2001) the messy, unthinking psychology of war

Two soldiers caught in no man’s land – one Bosnian, one Serb, barely keeping the thin veil of civility held together, while the threat of grave violence sits overhead. The pressure comes and goes, as the two soldiers seek a general truce with the understanding that violence could erupt at any time. Danis Tanović understands the psychology of the soldiers, the media covering the absurd event, and the UN soldiers having to take the impossible position of peacekeeper. It paints the situation as the evil and the obscurity of war impacting all interested parties.

Branko Đurić (Ciki) and Rene Bitorajac (Nino) are the heart of the film and carry the drama. It’s physically and emotionally a complex dynamic that develops quickly. It becomes a backwards friendship based on flimsy connections, but points out the hypocrisy and inhumanity of war. At their core, the similarities scream louder than the differences and only the adrenaline of life-or-death keeps the fragility barely held together. Once the UNPROFOR enters the script, Georges Siatidis (Marchand) beautifully conveys the ridiculous task of calming down tensions when emotions are riding high. His performance brings an empathy to a moment desperately needing a level head.

The Danis Tanović script is built through the premise, relying heavily on the concept to build the tension. The film is done situationally, with little plot and character to fill out the worldbuilding. He keeps the focus on the danger in the script. It’s simplistic in the approach, but it’s a broad look at how this situation would eventually play out. How it’s portrayed in the media, down to the UNPROFOR’s handling of the situation, down to the individual motivations and confronting the source of their needless distrust that stems from war. So, the lack of plot sets the focus point on the most important elements of the script and builds out from there. The atmosphere keeps one engaged in a story light on character.

Furthermore, the film is shot in mainly one primary location: the center of no man’s land. The last remaining survivors of a skirmish have to deal with the fallout and the grotesque decisions the screenplay directs towards these characters. The UN has to make horrible, rash decisions to keep the hostility and media frenzy to a minimum. It’s fascinating experiencing this dynamic in the trench, even if it can come across as contrived, but regardless of its plausibility, existing in this tension is such an uneasy, surreal story.


★★★★ / Out of 5★s

(87-91-89-90-87-85-86-88-N/A-83-88-90-88-92: 88)

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