No Man’s Land (2001)

“Neutrality does not exist in the face of murder. Doing nothing to stop it is, in fact, choosing. It is not being neutral.”

‘No Man’s Land’, directed by Danis Tanović in 2001, is a Bosnian war movie set during the Balkan civil wars of the 1990s. Two soldier from opposing sides are injured between the lines and encounter each other in the trenches. They form an unlikely pairing when faced with a third soldier who, after being knocked unconscious, is ‘booby trapped’ with a mine. A UN mission to rescue the soldiers goes wrong and the international military take farcical steps to cover up their ineptitude. It’s part tense thriller, part black comedy. In many ways it resembles the abstracted satire of ‘Dr Strangelove’ or ‘Catch 22’, but the setting and the starkness of the situation belies this. The main thing that struck me was how well the characters, particularly the triumvirate of wounded soldiers, are drawn. The Bosnian war was one fought on tenuous ethnic grounds, and this film plays on this, blurring the identities between the soldiers making it hard to tell whose side is which. It’s only when the ‘foreign’ military comes into action (the British and the French) that otherness becomes an issue. The opposing soldiers are brought together not only by their shared language and background, but also in opposition with the peacekeepers. As a thriller it’s impressively directed, but it is as a piece of contemporary satire, playing with events still raw at the time, that it really succeeds.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s a brilliant satire and a fascinating deconstruction of national identities. Watch in a double bill with ‘Catch 22’.

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