By Terri Graham (Conway, SC)
I don’t like war movies—the hatred, violence, and senseless killing. I’ll take a “feel good” movie any day, but what I appreciate more than a “feel good” movie is a movie that makes you keep thinking about it the next day. As I meditate on No Man’s Land, I begin to see all the layers of meaning and it blows me away by how smart the writing is. No Man’s Land delivers that and more as a counter war movie. I watched this movie as a class assignment in world literature but will watch it again on my own to further appreciate all that the writer is conveying. No Man’s Land is written and directed by Danis Tanovic in 2001.
This movie is set during the Bosnian and Serbian Civil War in the Balkans in 1993. Two soldiers from opposing sides in the conflict find themselves stuck in a booby-trapped trench together in between the front lines. Nino (Rene Bitorajac), a young Serbian soldier, is a recruit with little combat experience, and Ciki (Branko Djuric), is an older experienced Bosnian soldier. A second Bosnian soldier in the trench, Cera (Filip Sovagovic), is presumed dead, with a bomb under his body that will explode if the body is moved. Cera wakes up and is immediately informed of his dire situation by Ciki and ordered not to move.
As these soldiers attempt to draw attention so they can be rescued, one absurd moment after another delays their rescue, showing the absurdity of war. There are UN peacekeepers who can’t speak the language, reporters who will do whatever it takes to get a story for network ratings, and military personnel who have the authority to take a life, but don’t have the authority to save a life. Tanovic gives us one character who wants to do the right thing and isn’t tainted by war, UN Sergeant Marchand (Georges Siatidis).
Marchand is up against frustrating circumstances, from trying to communicate with soldiers who don’t speak the same language, to a commander who orders him not to go to the front line, and reporters who want a story at any cost. He eventually makes it to the front lines to help the soldiers and is able to get a bomb expert out to the field by negotiating with the reporter to help him. Marchand’s character gives hope that not everyone in the war is motivated by their own agenda. Perhaps the most important line in the movie is spoken by Marchand, “Neutrality does not exist in the face of murder. Doing nothing to stop it is, in fact, choosing. It is not being neutral.” This is important because no one shows any resolve to help these three soldiers stuck right in the center of the war zone.
If they look the other way and say it’s not my problem, they are making the decision to kill these men. Tanovic makes us aware of the effects of the war on civilians through actual news footage from the war of buildings being bombed and bloody civilians being carried away and a young boy who earns a few coins playing his accordion for the soldiers at the front lines. But this is not his emphasis perhaps because we already understand all too well the effects of war on civilians. He seems to want to tell the soldier’s side. This movie reminds us of what war robs us of.
Tanovic illustrates how war robs us of our humanity. Nino, the young soldier tries on several occasions to introduce himself to others only to be rebuffed. No one wants to know his name. It’s difficult to kill someone you see as a fellow human. Even when opposing soldiers, Nino and Ciki, find something in common in a woman they both know from back home, and share a laugh together, it isn’t enough to alter their minds consumed with violence towards each other.
This movie also shows how the news footage we see at home is sensationalized and the real stories are left by the wayside. At a point in the movie when the news media could make a difference in a soldier’s life, the cameraman asks, “You don’t want me to film the trench?” to which the reporter responds, “No. A trench is a trench. They’re all the same.” War robs us of our compassion. I recommend everyone watch No Man’s Land to be reminded of what war takes from us—our humanity, integrity and compassion.