Monday, May 21, 2007

Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams (2006)

Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams (Jasmila Zbanik, 2006)

Grbavica is a suburban district in Sarajevo which was attacked by the Serbs during the Bosnian war. Years after the end of that savage war, Esma (Mirjana Karanovic), a single mother, is trying to find enough money to send her daughter Sara (Luna Mijovic) to her school's annual trip. Although already over, the war has a lingering consequence in the psyche of the residents of the suburb, including Esma and her daughter.

Sara's school, in fact, are full of kids orphaned by the war --- their fathers being martyrs, and as a gratuity by the school, these kids do not have to pay just as long as they present a certificate that their dads are indeed martyrs. Esma's case is much more complex as she can be seen struggling through both financial and personal crises; her psychological stability, years after the war, has been affected drastically. Little gestures and things that would remind her of an incident during the war she has decided to keep a secret from Sara would instantly modify her mood --- forcing her to take in some pills to stabilize herself.

Jasmila Zbanik's Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams is a film that cries out for hope amidst the obvious after-effects of a violent war. The Bosnian war has left the city of Sarajevo in a complete stand-still as its citizens are trying to rebuild their own identities since most of their relatives have been massacred and burned, their whereabouts are still being continuously dug up through the numerous mass graves that are being discovered. Like these mass graves that force the citizens of Sarajevo to heal up and step forward, secrets of the past have to be made known to lessen the obvious divide that separates mother and child.

Zbanik's film moves with subtle grace, just giving enough nuances to force the plot to a direction that is, by the pic's end, truly rewarding. Despite the seemingly permanent scars of the war, new romances are allowed to blossom and friendships remain intact. Esma re-encounters romance through her club's resident thug and bodyguard Pelda (Leon Lucev), while Sara befriends and then falls for another offspring of a martyr, Samir (Kenan Catic). The film insists on the normalcy of post-war Sarajevo, and truly, peace has brought with it its boon. However, there's still that lingering stench of hidden and covered hurts that slowly seep out of gestation. We are made aware that the dilemma is not only within the household of Elma but also exists elsewhere; one of the film's most poignant moments happens inside a forum wherein a victim shares her pains from the war. Amidst the heart-wrenching tale is laughter from an obviously bothered woman --- her senses ultimately modified by the war-time experience.

That is exactly what makes Zbanik's film different from other post-war pics. Its point-of-view is distinctly feminist. It edifies womanhood and its corresponding resolute and strength. Against the male characters in the film, the women characters radiate with much more humanity and a suffering insistence in staying in their homeland. It feels like Zbanik wants to refocus the attention to the modern heroes of the Bosnian war --- the mothers, the daughters, and the friends who continue to shoulder the consequences of the war.

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