A serious case of Western guilt hangs over “Bosnia Diaries,” Joaquim Sapinho’s attempt to understand the horrors of the recent Balkan conflict. Through readings from his diary, the helmer compares footage shot in the summer of 1996 and again in winter 1998, but despite contrasting tonalities — washed out hues for the war-torn landscape of his first visit versus normal colors for his return — Sapinho is too caught up in his eyewitness trauma to recognize the changes between the pre- and postwar periods. Well-intentioned pic can’t compete in an already crowded field.
Both trips were in the company of Portuguese peace keeping forces, the first just three months after the siege of Sarajevo was lifted. Sapinho records the scarred waste of a city in hiding, which he subsequently compares with the repopulated metropolis. But he’s still paralyzed by a feeling of helplessness, overly keen to read too much into silent faces, and blinded to the oft-remarked-upon rush with which many Bosnians embraced a shaky normality. Ultraliterate script owes much to late W.G. Sebald, but whereas Sebald lived through the destruction he analyzed, Sapinho remains the uncomprehending outsider.