starring Branko Djuric, Rene Bitorajac, Filip Sovagovic, Georges Siatidis
written and directed by Danis Tanovic
by Walter Chaw Chiki (Branko Djuric) is one of two surviving members of a front-line relief party that was decimated after their guide got them lost in a fog. (From the first, the visual metaphors fly as thick as pea soup.) His companion Cera (Filip Sovagovic), thought dead by the enemy, has been placed on a pressure-sensitive mine; his antagonist, Nino (Rene Bitorajac), has been disarmed and wounded. The three of them (four if you consider the mine a character) decry their causes while overlooking their similarities. No Man's Land is at its best when it tantalizes with the possibility for resolution--and at its worst when it explodes the claustrophobia of its first hour to include the UN, the press, and a newsreel montage lending background to a conflict the movie's only ostensibly about in the first place.
Far more Joseph Heller than Costa-Gavras, Danis Tanovic's No Man's Land plays less like a political exposé of the Bosnian/Serb conflict than like an absurdist tragicomedy. No Man's Land's setting, an eight-foot trench in the pessimistic crossfire of violent hostilities, is clearly evocative of Samuel Beckett's Endgame. Consider that the traditional staging for Beckett's apocalyptic production consists of a closed environment with windows to the wasted outside that can only be reached by ladder. Parallels can be drawn as well to the four characters of Beckett's play: the destructive symbiosis of the impotent tyrant and his slave to wounded Cera bound to his mine; and an elderly couple bickering from separate ashcans to a Chiki and Nino, stuck in the refuse of their own ideologies. More than cosmetic, the similarities between Beckett's nihilistic pessimism and Tanovic's occasional flashes of the same ("A pessimist is someone who thinks that things can't get any worse, an optimist is sure that they can") speak to a potential in No Man's Land for something approaching a deeper philosophical resonance.
Unfortunately, No Man's Land squanders much of its metaphoric quality when it becomes a more mundane condemnation of the futility of war and the avariciousness of media. Maybe it's the familiarity of the message or the general fruitlessness of a continual assault on an invasive press that we as consumers demand (noting the unparalleled popularity of cable news networks in the aftermath of September 11th). It's a shame and an irony that a more powerful statement could have been crafted had Tanovic focused on the ridiculous and left the injustice to someone less talented. It's a good film, no question, but it tantalizes more than it delivers, especially with an eloquent final shot. Whatever the case, No Man's Land is one of those films that locates its strength at some distance from the actual intention of the filmmaker. Its passion is unquestionable but its potential is untapped and that, above all else, makes the film a minor disappointment rather than a resounding achievement. Originally published: February 22, 2002.