Mission

This impressive documentary deals with attempts to reconstruct the Balkan city of Mostar, which was seriously damaged in the recent Bosnian War. The film's simple, direct approach and the outstanding, high-contrast black-and-white photography of Michael Hammon result in a powerful report about the difficulties of reconstruction and the ending of age-old hatreds. This is a must for quality television programming the world over. Mostar, named after the famous old bridge that spanned the River Neretva, became a divided city, with the west being largely populated by Croats and the east by Bosnian Muslims. The first battles of the war were fought between Croat and Muslim allies against Serb forces. But with the Serbs driven off, the Croats and Muslims fought a devastating war among themselves, though, as one old man avers, most of the fighting was done by outsiders, men who were not from Mostar, where ethnic tensions were not, apparently, much in evidence in the beginning.

The film, which opens with a photograph of Mostar before the war, with the lovely old bridge intact, commenced shooting only two months after the end of the fighting, in the summer of 1994. Filmmakers Mirjam Quinte and Pepe Danquart explore both sides of the city and talk to the people. They also cover the beginning of reconstruction, the building of a new bridge across the river under British supervision, the demolishing of the ruined buildings.

The eastern, Muslim part of Mostar always was less prosperous and more picturesque than the western part. This section of the city was almost destroyed. A woman picks over the remains of her possessions, including her beloved books; an elderly woman cares for her four orphaned grandsons; a woman nurses a baby, her grandson, noting that she is Muslim, her husband is Serb and her daughter’s husband is Croatian. Many of the people who talk to the camera still appear dazed, and one young man obviously has been seriously affected mentally by his fearful experiences.

Meanwhile, on the west side of the river, the Croats are living in apparent prosperity. Little damage was done to this part of town, shops and cafes are open, people wander in the streets — all in complete contrast to the devastation on the other side. In a cafe, one man interviewed indicates his scorn and hatred toward his battered Muslim neighbors.

“Mission” is an evocative work of some distinction, which without overtly taking sides, presents a humanitarian view of the aftermath of the crippling conflict.

It’s technically impressive in every department.

Mission

German

Production: A Quinte Filmproduktion-ARTE-Blueberry Films production, with the support of the Goethe Institute. Produced by Mirjam Quinte. Directed by Mirjam Quinte, Pepe Danquart.

Crew: Camera (B&W), Michael Hammon; editor, Mona Brauer; music, Michel Seigner; narration, Klaus Theweleit. Reviewed at Berlin film fest (Forum), Feb. 16, 1997. Running time: 124 MIN.

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