A resolute Bosnian mother grows determined to find the daughter taken from her and given to German foster parents a decade earlier in finely played drama “Warchild.” Winner of the screenplay prize at this year’s Montreal World Film Festival, pic will be a strong fest draw well beyond its planned Nov. 9 release in Germany and ex-Yugoslavia, with commensurate ancillary.
Though an attentive real estate broker and an accomplished volleyball player in Brcko, a village near Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 30-year-old Senada (Labina Mitevska) is haunted by the changes in her life during her time in an interment camp during the Bosnian conflict. Her marriage to the quiet but likable Samir (Senad Basic) crumbled, and, worse, her daughter, Aida, was taken from her and relocated to a location unknown to Senada by an aid organization.
Senada becomes convinced she’s found the child, and, after a harrowing illegal border crossing to Ulm, Germany, orchestrated by trafficker Dzigera (Zdenko Jelcic), she begins a cat-and-mouse game of discovery with a local aid worker, Mrs. Jandrasko (vet Katrin Sass, the mother in “Good Bye, Lenin!”).
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Incredibly, Senada finds her daughter: now 12 and renamed Kristina (Joelle Ludwig). She’s being raised by the well-to-do Heinles, Lars (Otto Kukla) and Beate (Crescentia Duensser). But, as she observes her daughter from a cafe near the Heinle home, Senada discovers she can’t trust anyone.
Pic illustrates with incisive precision the dilemma facing those whose lives were ruptured by the Bosnian conflict — and, by extension, any war. Helmer Christian Wagner’s assured direction of a fully rounded script might have been enough to convincingly sell the drama on its own. But it is the iron-willed yet haunted perf of Mitevska, previously seen in Milo Manchevski’s “Before the Rain” that lifts the story from affecting to engrossing. As good as rest of the cast is, this is Mitevska’s show.
Led by the muted yet crystalline images of vet lenser Thomas Mauch, “Warchild” has the tech precision of a fine watch.
Per Wagner, this is the second installment in a planned “Balkan Blues Trilogy,” following the 1998 20-minute drama “Zita,” and concluding with planned feature “Alcatrash.”