Striking a tone of equal parts dignity and despair, “The Punishment” is a harrowing, here-and-now look at the human toll in the aftermath of the 1999 bombing of Belgrade by United Nations forces. Pic from helmer Goran Rebic, whose “Jugofilm” was a 1997 fest fave, speaks simply and pointedly to the sheer strength of a citizenry put through a man-made hell few could imagine while maintaining an anguished, increasingly mournful calm. Fest, tube and vid life is assured, with theatrical a more formidable but no less honorable challenge.
Opening with a wedding reception only mildly disrupted by an air-raid siren and a seven-minute montage of ruined structures, Rebic conducts probing and eloquent interviews with people from all walks of life who were already his friends or who he met through connections. Perhaps most memorable is actress Sonja Savic, who ends the film sitting in Belgrade’s deserted international airport speaking in an articulate fury of the access to the world now lost. Tech credits are subtly complex, with simultaneously shot video footage supplementing the formal interviews. Original title translates as “The First Thing to Disappear in War Is Truth.”