Top positive review
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Tragic, to the point, and rather brilliant
on 30 January 2003
Last year, just before the Academy voted their choices for the Oscars, Miramax launched a campaign. The campaign was pretty simple - to have the Academy, who's vote choices included Best Foreign Language Film, to actually have SEEN the foreign language films they were voting from. The only Miramax film in this category was the hugely popular French movie Amelie, which is what most would have been voted for without the campaign as it is probably the only film most of the voters would have seen, so this was a brave and rather admirable step for Miramax to take. The campaign was launched, the films were viewed, and No Man's Land, a Bosnian film, won.
Whether it is, in fact, better than Amelie or whether the Academy followed suit from Cannes and thought it was too 'lightweight' for an Oscar is debatable but this is still a very good war film.
The story is pretty simple. In 1993, two Bosnians and a Serb are caught in a trench between enemy lines. They - eventually - call a truce as one of the Bosnians is lying on top of an unexploded mine, planted by the Serbs to fool the Bosnians when they think the soldier is dead, that would explode if he got up and kill all of them. Things start spinning out of hand when the UN and the media become involved, not least because they all seem to speak different languages.
Dani Tanovic's biting war film has satirical touches - the situation would almost be a comic set up if it were not for the threat to the soldiers' lives. The soldiers from the opposing sides (the third, on the mine, is a smaller though crucial part), through their fights and arguments learn a little about each other and both come to the conclusion that the war will solve nothing and it is the other side's fault it started. They both have opportunities to kill each other but do not, not because they become friends but because they realise that it would be a human being they were killing rather than just another enemy soldier.
Perhaps No Man's Land does not have the scope of movies such as Apocalypse Now, or the emotional depth of movies like Platoon or Schindler's List, but it still outlines how pointless war is and the effect it can have on people. It gets the message across well, as it shows us the situation from four different viewpoints - the soldiers involved; the concerned UN blue caps ("smurfs"); the nosy news reporter; and the indifferent bigwig (played by Simon Callow).
The situation in the movie has an effect on everyone's lives involved, and you will find yourself on the edge of your seat all the way up to the inevitable, and devastating, climax. At 98 minutes it is a little short but it still manages to fulfil its purpose and this is considerably better than some of the gung-ho war movies Hollywood sporadically spews out.