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Serbia sends ‘Besa’ to Oscars

Karanovic's film looks at ethnic tensions

LONDON — Srdjan Karanovic’s “Besa,” a story that acts as an allegory for the history of ethnic tensions in the Balkans, is Serbia’s entry for the Oscars.

Set in 1914 when Filip, a Serbian school teacher, is called up for the war, the story focuses on the relationship between his Slovenian wife Lea (Iva Krajnc) and Azem, the school’s Albanian caretaker, played by Serbian actor Miki Manojlovic, who also stars in Bosnia’s Oscar pick, “Cirkus Columbia.”

Filip, fearing that his wife — an attractive dance teacher — will come to harm, entrusts her to Azem’s care, who gives a solemn oath, the “besa” of the title, that he will protect her to the death if necessary.

As the relationship between an educated Christian woman and an illiterate Muslim peasant develops from intolerance, through tolerance, to an unusual friendship approaching love, the film explores the depths of ethnic divisions that have been the cause of such much suffering in the region.

The film picked up an international film clubs federation award at the Moscow Intl. Film Festival, where it screened in competition in June.