No Man's Land Review
A Bosnian soldier is laying on a mine in a trench in the no man's land between the Serb and the Bosnian lines. His brother-in-arms, Chiki (Branko Djuric) is also in the trench with him as is Nino (Rene Bitorajac), the young Serb soldier who laid the mine. An uneasy but necessary peace overshadowed by their mutual hate establishes itself in the trench. Menwhile, a reporter, avidly looking for a scoop (Katrin Cartlidge), latches on to the subject while the UN are called in to deal with the situation. The head of the UN forces, Colonel Soft (Simon Callow), doesn't want to get involved in what could potentially go beyond the realms of peace-keeping. However, the idealistic Captain Dubois (Serge-Henri Valcke) is already attempting to intervene but is now being told he must stop what he's doing and return to base...
Tanovic's work on the script, direction and music is quite majestic and reminiscent of the "film d'auteur" so dear to the French. Tanovic doesn't pull any punches or manipulate facts to fit his point of view - all the sides - the media, the UN, the Serbs, the Bosnians - are capable of the same bizarre mix of stupidity and humanity. Alternating between subtle gibes (like when a Serb soldier reads "Made in EEC" on the landmine he's about to use) or ferocious satire, Tanovic keeps the storytelling going throughout the film and avoids letting his political points hijack the film.
With some excellent use of the wide 2.35:1 format, the cinematography makes full use of the beautiful exteriors and avoids the potential hazard of making the film look like an elaborate stage play. Thanks to some inventive casting (who would have thought of casting Simon Callow as a hardened UN Colonel?) the acting is convincing despite the fact that a large portion of the cast were not trained actors.
Although Srdjan Dragojevic's excellent Pretty Village, Pretty Flame was maybe more successful as a film, No Man's Land remains a fascinating take on a war that was - and still is - vastly ignored by the "international community". Deservedly No Man's Land beat Amélie for the Best Foreign Film Oscar although the Academy was hardly taking major risks given the reams of awards the film had already won including the Cannes Prize for the Best Scenario.
The image:The image is quite clear despite some appearances of white specks and other blemishes. The image is also anamorphically enhanced and exhibits little grain or artifacting. The opening sequences in the fog, potentially difficult to transfer, are dealt with exceptionally well. Altogether a very good transfer.
:We get the original international track (as the film was filmed in six different languages) mixed in an impressive and effective 5.1 mix. There are some slight problems with the lip synchronisation on certain scenes which does get a tad frustrating but bar that the soundtrack serves the film exceptionally well. The subtitles are available in French and English and both sets are clear and excellent (at least for the English and the French dialogue).
The menus:Set against excerpts from the film with the soundtrack playing in the background, the menus are very stylish and tasteful. A very good effort.
We get two commentaries which are both in French with Danis Tanovic and Cedomir Kolar (the producer) on one and the director of photography (Walthar Vanden Ende) with Kolar again on the other. Tanovic's is particularly interesting, revealing many important aspects of the film that were probably lost on the "western" audiences such as the way the music was put together in order to create a bizarre mix of a lullaby with a military march and his casting of non-professional actors. Silences are few and you can feel Tanovic's passion but he never fails to thank and praise the cast and the crew that helped him make this film. Kolar also contributes quite a bit but his role on both tracks is more as a facilitator rather than a commentator. The second commentary is slightly less passionate but still interesting. The presence of the producer avoids them from going over territory already dealt with in the previous commentary and this time they focus much more on the technical aspects of filming and will probably be of less general interest. Ende's accent is incredibly strong and not always easy to understand (from what I could make out his native tongue is Dutch) so you'll need to have a good level of French to follow him. Still it's an informative commentary on film-making on a very tight budget in quite difficult circumstances and doesn't really feel superfluous.
Added to the commentary there's a 20 minute monologue from Tanovic in fluent French filmed on 16mm - a bit like what Jeunet did for Amélie - where he just talks about his personal history, his background in documentary making, what he did during the war and so on - he avoids talking about the film but just lets us understand his history and where he's coming from. Very informative and not in the least bit boring or self-indulgent. The transfer of this is anamorphic although the image reveals the graininess of 16mm film - still nothing there to complain about...
We also get a short film made by Tanovic on the plight of a maimed soldier and his longing for being reunited with his family. This is sadly only subtitled in French but a basic grasp of the language should allow you to understand what is going on. Although technically a documentary, Tanovic uses a great deal of cinematic techniques to tell the story giving a moving account of the fallout of civil conflict on individual lives. It only makes one wish that his documentaries will be released on DVD in the near future.
To finish with we get an excellent batch of photos from the filming and the US trailer which manages to make the film look like a cross between Hogan's heroes and Dad's Army - maybe due to the September 11th syndrome, the advertisers thought it had a better chance presenting as light relief rather than a dark anti-war satire. Those who went to see the film based on this trailer were definately in for a surprise!
DVD-rom features:As an extra bonus we get the entire script from the film in French and in HTML format.
Conclusions:Although sadly only the film is subtitled, this release is quite impressive in it's own right with a good soundtrack and a great transfer. Given that the only other available release is the bare bones US release, this release is a worthwhile alternative.