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18 Aug 11

New Film Highlights Trauma of Bosnia’s Missing

Danis Tanovic’s ‘Baggage’, which tackles one man’s search for his dead parents’ bodies, lends a personal touch to an issue that is too often neglected or treated in the abstract.

Valerie Hopkins
Danis Tanovic

A new film by Bosnian Oscar-winning film director Danis Tanovic personalizes the ongoing search for the 10,000 victims of the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina whose bodies remain missing. 

“Baggage,” which premiered on the last day of the Sarajevo Film Festival, serves as a haunting reminder that, although almost 16 years have passed since the war that claimed over 100,000 lives ended, thousands of Bosnians are still seeking the closure that can come only once they have found and buried their loved ones.

“These people cannot and don’t want to admit [the loss], and it is their daily nightmare,” Tanovic told reporters who watched the film in a private press screening on Thursday.

Boris Ler plays Amir, a Bosniak who returns to Bosnia from Sweden after the authorities say they have finally identified his parents. But when he arrives he finds out that the sack of bones they thought were his mother and father belong to someone else. 

Amir then returns to his village in Bosnia’s mainly Serb entity, Republika Srpska, where Dusan, a childhood friend, recognizes him and tells him who call tell him where to find his parents, for a price.

Tanovic told journalists it was important to make the film because finding bodies of the victims is the first step towards fostering reconciliation among people who were once neighbours.

“Searching for the victims is one of the key problems in Bosnia today for restoring trust,” he said. “Without achieving that, we simply cannot start a new era, since the pain of people who do not manage to find their relatives is the most horrible legacy of the war.”

Baggage” showcases the process of rebuilding trust in the relationship between Amir and Dusan. Dusan recognizes his friend standing the ruins of his former home and reluctantly tells a skeptical Amir that a man named Miladin knows where the bodies of his parents are. But Dusan’s parents are nervous about him helping Amir, revealing deep-seeded mistrust and fear of “the other” on both sides. Miladin’s own cold and defensive air belies his own fear.

Tanovic weaves the metaphor of baggage throughout the film as a symbol of all who struggle to overcome the past.  Each character in the film is saddled with the weight of his emotional and psychological heritage.

In Amir’s tiny hometown, some Serbs grapple with the knowledge of the gravesite, afraid to announce its location for fear of retaliation or punishment. They are uncomfortable when it comes to acknowledging the atrocities that occurred so close to their homes.

Tanovic said he felt inspired after speaking to people who are still searching for their loved ones. “Actually the story is composed of three real stories that I was told,” he said. “Horrible as each is, they just united in my mind to arrive at the one that is being told.”

The director said that although mass graves are often in the news, he wanted to make a film about the issue because the medium of film is better at conveying emotion.

Tanovic’s debut film, “No Man’s Land”, won an Oscar for best foreign language film in 2002. A black comedy, it dealt with the absurdity of war; during the 1992-1995 war, Tanovic shot over 300 hours of footage while following the Bosnian Army.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie and actor Brad Pitt were among attendees at the screening, demonstrating their belief in its message.  Jolie’s own directorial debut, “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” about the war, will premiere this autumn.

This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.

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