A high-concept chromatic ploy informs Ahmed Imamovic’s black-and-white “Belvedere,” a moody, socially conscious drama tracing the aftermath of the Srebrenica massacre, in which some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim boys and men were slaughtered. Fifteen years later, widows, mothers and children wait at the Belvedere refugee camp during the slow work of locating, exhuming and identifying remains. Onsite actors mingle with real-life survivors, the monochome tableaux occasionally intersected with garish color imagery from a TV reality show that ironically offsets the characters’ plight. Pic’s stark compositional beauty assures fest play, but wider exposure may depend on auds’ familiarity with historical events.
At the film’s center stands the quasi-mythic figure of Ruvejda (an arresting Sadzida Setic). Hemmed in by obligations to both the living and the dead, she mourns her husband, children and father, and has assumed responsibility for her widowed sister, Zejna (Minka Muftic), and legless brother, Aliya (Nermin Tulic). She spends her days shuttling between mass graves and the DNA identification center, seeking closure. She stands in the road in silent protest with the other women of Belvedere, as they unfurl long banners onto which they have stitched and stenciled the names of the slain. The entire community lives in limbo, unable to bury the past.
Imamovic counterpoints this small, self-contained world with an equally sealed-off environment. Zejna’s naive, accordion-playing son, Adnan (Adis Omerovic), is chosen to appear as a token Bosnian in the Serbian version of “Big Brother,” where he plays out inane, trumped-up problems of coexistence. Imamovic inventively juxtaposes these parallel universes: “Big Brother” sometimes merely occupies a disconcerting spot of color in a background TV set, piercing Belvedere’s two-dimensional grayness and calling its primacy into question. Sometimes the show fills the whole screen, the pronouncements of Big Brother vaguely echoing the findings of the hazard-suited DNA identification team.
“Belvedere” reverses the symbolic significance of “Pleasantville”s black-and-white/color oppositions: Where the color daubings in “Pleasantville” represented pockets of liberation from sitcom drabness, here the intrusion of color signals bubble-headed escapism. Sometimes, though, the color transmissions — such as a vapid scene in which two girls fight over a bowl (not even its contents) — insufficiently reflect any larger context.
Indeed, the entire film functions best as poetic abstraction, its striking visuals matched by archetypal thesping somewhat reminiscent of Greek tragedy, with lines of poetry substituting for a chorus. Tech credits are excellent, but a short introductory explanation of the Srebrenica genocide would greatly improve the pic’s distribution chances.