28 March, 2009

Snijeg (Snow) 2008

White magic

Snow.poster Snow does not fall to cover the hill, but for every beast to leave its trail

Director Aida Begic chose the proverb (Bosnian?) to introduce her film at Cannes, where Snow won the 2008 Critics' Week Grand Prize. This film, just released in Belgium, treats a subject too seldom covered in movies about war: its aftereffects, especially on the survivors.

The setting is the peaceful mountain village of Slavno in Bosnia, 1997 - barely two years since the end of the war between Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Serbs, and sometimes Bosnian Croats. There is still danger in unmapped minefields, and there is still hope that at least some of the missing men might turn up - alive.

Hope, would say protagonist Alma, may not be a plan, but it sure beats resignation and flight. She's battling to make a go of a little business making and marketing fruit preserves. "Slavno will feed half of Bosnia," she says, though nothing is easy. There are - with the exception of an elderly man and a mute, traumatized boy - only women and children in Slavno.

Director Begic says that "this is not a 'woman's film,' though men are marked by their absence" (interview in Le Soir by Didier Stiers). And though it's not a "war film" either, the psychic wounds are visible on the faces of the survivors.

I highly recommend Michael Guillen's film blog, The Evening Class, and his transcription of a Cannes Q & ASnow with the director (who looks uncannily like Alma). We learn that Begic (33) and Zana Marjanovic (Alma) are both from Sarajevo (the latter grew up in New York City), and had to "do a lot of serious research to make this film" that depicts village life in loving, and knowing, detail.

The opening scene - pre-dawn prayers in the ruins of what was once the village mosque - has to be one of the most effective depictions of Muslim piety and peacefulness yet put on film. The women - led in prayer by "Grandpa" - overlook the valleys filled with morning mists. The serenity belies the horrors that have been perpetrated there in the recent past.

We hear references to "Chetniks" - the term used to describe the feared Serb militias - a throwback to the partisan fighting against German invaders in World War II. So we are surprised when a Serb shows up in the village. What does he know about the missing men of the village, and can his word be trusted?

Snow provides a rare glimpse into Bosnia, without burdening us with the complications of the post-Dayton balkanization (hey, that's where they invented it!) of the Muslim/Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Serbian Republika Srpska - officially one country.

You don't need to know any of that. And you only have to watch Snow to appreciate that "collateral damage" in war requires more to repair it than just band aids and bricks. The critics at Cannes have shown their discernment: Snow is a wonderful film.

Awards: Click here for details.

Gerald Loftus
100 mins. In English and Bosnian

No comments: