Monday, November 19, 2007

Srdjan Dragojevic, "Pretty Village, Pretty Flame" (1996)

I am finding myself to be less and less a fan of war movies. When I was in my teens, I really couldn't get enough of them. Mostly my enjoyment of such films was a reflection of my militaristic attitude, and corresponding plans to eventually serve time in the armed forces. I guess I formed these interests as a reaction to my family's values. Nobody in my immediate family was much interested in war, and so I tried to carve out a niche that would establish my individualiity within the household. Looking back I suppose I often went overboard. While ordinary teens were experiencing the wonders of the opposite sex, I was tramping around a wooded section south of town, playing wargames with my buddies.

My preoccupation with war lasted until I was halfway through my undergraduate years. When Operation Desert Storm began, I lived with a guy I would have described as a neo-hippie. He noted my strong support for the invasion of Iraq, and began to ask me questions about my beliefs. I credit his approach because he avoided preaching to me- his style was very non-confrontational. He only wanted to know why I thought the way I did. Soon I was questioning myself. This led to a series of changes in my life, but for the purposes of this post I'll merely point out that I would never be cavalier about war again. Although I still enjoy reading about military issues (especially in the post-Vietnam era), I tend to see true horror in almost everything that has to do with war. I guess in some ways I have become the type of peacenik I may have despised in my youth.

In the last fifteen years, I have come to appreciate a number of "anti-war" films. Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket (1987), Malick's The Thin Red Line (1998), Elem Klimov's Come and See (1985) and Danis Tanovic's No Man's Land (2001) are among my favorites. That last one concerns the folly and tragedy of the conlict in the Balkans during the 1990's. I know so very litttle about the complex web that constitutes the history of the Balkan situation, but I had little difficulty appreciating the dark humor and pathos of Tanovic's feature. In fact, I was impressed enough to seek out other films regarding the bloody troubles and the multiple wars fought within this relatively small geographic area. That's how I came across Dragojevic's Pretty Village, Pretty Flame.

PV, PF is a gritty commentary on the fighting between Serbians and Muslims in the Bosnian War. Just like in the American Civil War, formerly-close friends and neighbors engage in bloody battles and brutality against each other. Dragojevic structures his narrative on the relationship between two childhood buddies who find themselves on opposing sides of the rapidly shifting lines. The director is a Serb, and although he is clearly trying to expose another side of his villified people, he is not beyond showing the absurdity in the incendiary pursuit of nationalism- regardless of the perpetrators. His little band of anti-heros find themselves trapped in an abandoned tunnel that was ironically intended to bring peace and commerce to the divided country of Yugoslavia during the Tito years. We get to know these characters through a series of jumbled flashbacks- revealing back stories as their thirst and madness gradually become more acute.

Along with the poignant emotional and physical difficulties Dragojevic depicts, there is much cynical humor traded between the Serbs themselves, and with their Muslim opponents. The sheer senselessness of the battle is reinforced again and again. The director pulls absolutely no punches in his efforts to convey the terrible destruction visited upon a torn land by war. Relationships are shattered and resentments formed by the gruesome events. There is no simple solution to the problems of the former socialist state, nor for the plights of the principals involved in the fighting. They are caught up in a cycle of ethnic hatred and violence, and even when people avoid the polarization of "us vs. them" mentality- they are not excused from the suffering it causes. Watching this film reminds us that there is a road not often traveled but vitally necessary for our future as a 'civilized' species, and it involves open communication and diplomacy rather than force.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous marc said...

merge,

i have to say that "No Man's Land" was also a bit of a catalyst for me in 2002.... the intensity of those men in that space, the complex relationships and perspectives, issues regarding culturalism, nationalism... I will endevor to watch the others. If I may make my own recommendation to readers as well, those of you with a penchant toward the 'graphic' novel might want to check out: Joe Sacco's work (Safe Area Gorazde, War's End, and The Fixer) regarding the conflict between Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats...a good augmentation to merge's mentions..

1:13 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

I would second Marc's recommendation. Sacco's a well-respected journalist working in an unheralded medium.

9:49 AM  

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