Resolution 819 Review

Noel Megahey reviews Giacomo Battiato’s powerful if somewhat fictionalised movie adaptation of the investigation into the massacre of Srebrenica in 1995 during the Bosnian war.

Jameson’s 9th Belfast Film Festival review

The intentions behind Resolution 819 are abundantly clear, the filmmakers attempting to impress upon the viewer the horror and the significance of the 1995 genocidal massacre of the Muslim population of the town of Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb troops operating in defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 819. The facts are well-known, the images have been shown on news reports across the world, but the sheer horror and suffering that must have taken place cannot simply be measured in statistics, numbers or a couple of minutes of a news report, and is quickly forgotten. A film, based on the experience of a former French police officer sent in to investigate the incident, can examine the true significance of what happened and show it on a much more human level that anyone watching will feel, and Resolution 819’s sober reconstruction of the events surrounding the disappearance of and killing of at least 8,000 men from Srebrenica, the discovery of the mass graves in which they were buried, the testimony of those who lived through the massacre, and the subsequent attempts to bring the Serbian war criminals all serve the notion of showing that however painful it may be, the need for truth and justice is of paramount importance.

Benoît Magimel’s Jacques Calvez (a fictionalised character representing the real French investigator) finds that the only way to remain focussed and directed towards what he has to achieve over the long six years of his investigation, despite the bureaucracy and threats that he has to face, is to indeed never forget the human context. There are however few survivors left to give an account of the rounding up of the men, their transportation to remote sites where they are mercilessly executed and then buried in mass graves, but the pleas of the women, also rounded up, raped and mistreated by the Serbian troops – some of those soldiers once even part of the community they now terrorise – drive Calvez to seek out the truth. One image in particular becomes important and representative of the very real human suffering that occurred – the photograph of a young girl, taken from one of the buses by the troops, raped and hanged from a tree. This grisly photograph represents for Calvez all the deaths that have occurred and gives him a reason to seek out the perpetrators.

There is no way that the film can convey the depth of that horror either, but it certainly attempts to take a balanced and representative approach to every aspect of the investigation. The testimonies and reconstruction of the cold-blooded executions certainly make the strongest impact in this regard, but they are closely matched by the mounting horror of the discovery of mass graves, and the attempts by the commanders to cover up what happened following the agreement to end hostilities. Rather than show endless scenes of the no-doubt complex bureaucratic wrangling that undoubtedly played a huge part in the attempt to get to the truth, the filmmakers (director Giacomo Battiato and writer/producer Thierry Jonquet) have tried also to bring a human reaction to the proceedings, developing a relationship between Calvez and a Polish forensics expert Klara (Karolina Gruszka), and showing the dangers they face and impact the findings have on them.

Likewise, rather than spend too much time on the complex legal issues over the war crime and genocide charges presented against the commanders and perpetrators of the massacre, Resolution 819 takes a more cinematic approach in showing the hunt for Momcilo Draganovic, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic by the Secret Services under the direction of Lherbier (Hippolyte Girardot). This serves just as well as representing the importance of taking the investigation through to its final stage, showing that in addition to uncovering the truth, there is just as much a need for justice to be seen to be done. If at such times the film, with its fine Ennio Morricone soundtrack, favours the cinematic approach over the strictly documentary-realist and can sometimes be a little dry in its account, it is through the need to present the situation in a way that will best serve the facts of the incident. That’s not to shock the viewer with overpowering scenes that would be impossible to show realistically on the screen, but to give them a little bit longer that the average five minutes of a news report to consider the implications of the worst civilian massacre to occur in Europe since WWII, as well as the realisation of how close it is to us and how shockingly easily it was allowed to happen.


Updated: Apr 03, 2009

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