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Cannes Film Review: ‘The Bridges of Sarajevo’

Thirteen directors reflect on the onset of WWI in this wildly uneven omnibus.

Thirteen directors respond to Sarajevo’s position as nexus of conflict in the 20th century in “The Bridges of Sarajevo,” a wildly uneven omnibus commissioned to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the outbreak of WWI. The brainchild of French critic Jean-Michel Frodon, the pic combines a wide range of perspectives and styles, yet less than a handful feel worthy of their makers, and only Cristi Puiu’s exceptionally clever, wickedly funny short addresses broader issues with intelligence. Connected by generically pleasant if obvious animated interstitials, these “Bridges” won’t span temporal planes beyond the usual fest rotation.

Slated for French release in early July, “Sarajevo” will see more traction via streaming platforms, allowing partisans of particular directors the opportunity to pick and choose their masters (Godard or Meier?). Frodon’s project should ideally have been a summation, or at least a creative revisiting, of the particular qualities that made Sarajevo such a draw for filmmakers and intellectuals during the fratricidal Bosnian War of the 1990s, yet whether cerebral or emotional, most of the contributions here do little to further the discourse, and those dealing with the First World War offer no more than a perfunctory nod to the bloodiest conflagration of the last century.

Things get off to an unexceptional start with Kamen Kalev’s “My Dear Night,” in which Franz Ferdinand (Samuel Finzi) engages with an aide-de-camp (Gilles Tschudi) about fate and free will, while the archduke’s wife, Sophie (Gergana Pletnyova), begs him not to drive through the Sarajevo streets. The conversation is a reworking of Caesar and Calpurnia’s scenes in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” culminating in the Austrian couple’s murder, and while Kalev makes it stylish, it also feels far too easy.

Vladimir Perisic’s “Our Shadows Will” is considerably more experimental, opening with a black screen and a young man’s voice speaking lines that assassin Gavrilo Princip, then 19, said at his trial. The empty frame shifts to the stacks of a library, where several young men, presumably modern representations of the archduke’s conspirators, wander about, their off-camera whispers speaking of Yugoslavian unity. The locale references the tragic burning of Bosnia’s great national library in 1992, as does Marc Recha’s later entry in the omnibus, yet it’s all too obtuse and offers no insight into questionable parallels between Princip’s anarchist cell and post-Tito nationalist fanatics.

“The Outpost,” set in the Italian Dolomites during WWI, is one of two shorts that don’t allude to Sarajevo, focusing on a lieutenant pressing a subordinate into a suicide mission to capture a sniper. At the end, helmer Leonardo Di Costanzo (“The Interval”) includes statistics relating to the number of Italian soldiers detained for insubordination or desertion; such a didactic, straightforward approach would be better in a film made for high-school students. Angela Schanelec (“Orly”) shifts to the avant-garde with “Princip, Text,” in which a couple read aloud from Princip’s trial statements, one speaking in Serbian and the other translating into German. Like Perisic’s entry, this feels like an exercise rather than a meaningful comment on a world-changing event.

Fortunately it’s followed by Puiu’s “Das Spektrum Europas,” hands down the best entry in the omnibus. Consisting of two shots, the short is a Christmastime conversation in bed between a husband and wife (stage actors Marian Ralea and Valeria Seciu) as she reads aloud from Hermann Keyserling’s 1928 book “Das Spektrum Europa,” in which the German philosopher reduced most of southeastern Europe to unflattering national stereotypes. The husband brings his own extreme prejudices to bear while arguing against Keyserling’s categorizations, devolving into a hilarious Romanian equivalent of Tom Lehrer’s “National Brotherhood Week.” Although Sarajevo and the wars aren’t mentioned, Puiu’s entry says more about the pernicious persistence of nationalism than all the others combined, and with wit and humor.

Following this with Jean-Luc Godard’s “The Bridge of Sighs” shows the range of the project’s commissions, but the French icon delivers a mere footnote to his well-documented cinematic engagement with Sarajevo, including bits from his shorts “Ecce homo” and “Je vous salue, Sarajevo” in a collage of semi-articulate thoughts about violence, ethnic cleansing and the morality of photographing tragedy. Sergei Loznitsa’s elegant, wordless “Reflections” superimposes shots of Bosnian fighters taken by Milomir Kovacevic in 1992 over images of the city today, its still battle-scarred structures bearing haunting witness to the recent past.

Recha’s gently impressionistic “Zan’s Journey” begins a tonal shift largely continued by the remaining titles, in which characters look back at Sarajevo with wounded nostalgia. Haris (Zlatko Dzinovic) tells younger brother Zan (Mak Dzinovic) about life in Sarajevo before they fled to Spain, and how their father could save only one book from the ruins of the National Library. Aida Begic (“Children of Sarajevo”) makes “Album” a compendium of older voices recounting the hunger and desperation of the siege years, accompanied, like “Reflections,” with shots of the city now.

Displacement is a theme in “Sara and Her Mother,” from Portugal’s Teresa Villaverde (“Trance”), in which a woman silently recalls the blockade years as she packs books she had as a child during the war. Vincenzo Marra’s “The Bridge” sticks to a classic narrative structure and is the most artificially sentimental of the bunch, about a Christian-Muslim couple (Fatima Nejmarlija and Majo Ivkovic) who fled Sarajevo and haven’t been back in 20 years. When his father dies, she insists they return, but survivor’s guilt has eaten away his resolve. A nice shot of the woman praying in Rome’s Ara Coeli before the tomb of Catherine, queen of Bosnia, attests to the historic connection between Bosnia and Rome but will be a mystery to the uninformed.

A 5-year-old living with his grandmother makes the Sarajevo streets his own in Isild Le Besco’s charming “Little Boy,” an ode to childhood resiliency and the promise of a generation less tainted by conflict. Finally, Ursula Meier’s “Quiet Mujo” also focuses on a child, via the bittersweet story of Mujo (Vladan Kovacevic), searching for a wayward soccer ball in a cemetery crowded with Christian and Muslim victims of the Bosnian War.

Visuals are a major plus, boasting contributions by such master lensers as Agnes Godard, Luca Bigazzi and Rui Pocas, yet as with most compendiums, their work is likely best appreciated when considered as individual shorts. The segments are connected by animated footage that starts as linking hands, turns into a bridge, is destroyed by war, and is remade by linking hands. Luckily, most of the helmers don’t have quite such a facile conception of war and renewal.

My Dear Night
A Cineteve production. Produced by Filip Todorov. Directed, written by Kamen Kalev. Camera (color, widescreen), Julian Atanassov; editor, Xavier Sirven; music, Kaloyan Dimitrov; production designers, Svilen Nikolov, Marin Panovski; costume designer, Krasimira Vringova; sound, Pierre-Yves Lavoue, Alexander Simeonov; assistant director, Jane Kortoshev; casting, Yoana Ilieva. 7 MIN.
With: Samuel Finzi, Gilles Tschudi, Gergana Pletnyova, Nazim Mumunov, Ilian Petrov, Dimitar Dimitrov, Nikolay Serbezov, Eduard Iliev. (German dialogue)

Our Shadows Will
An Obala Art Centar production. Produced by Mirsad Purivatra, Izeta Gradevic, Jovan Marjanovic. Directed, written by Vladimir Perisic. Camera (color, widescreen), Simon Beaufils; editor, Jelena Maksimovic; sound, Frederic Heinrich, Olivier Goinard; line producers, Ivan Milanovic, Ognjen Dizdarevic; assistant director, Stefan Ivancic. 7 MIN.
With: Bogdan Ninkovic, Feda Stamenkovic, Andrej Ivancic, Nikola Brkovic, Mihailo Kovic. (Serbian dialogue)

The Outpost
A MIR Cinematografica production. Produced by Francesco Virga. Directed by Leonardo Di Costanzo. Screenplay, Maurizio Braucci, Di Costanzo, loosely adapted from the short story “La Paura” by Federico De Roberto. Camera (color, widescreen), Luca Bigazzi; editor, Carlotta Cristiani; production designer, Giliano Carli; costume designer, Andrea Taddei; sound, Carlo Missidenti, Daniela Bassani, Marzia Cordo, Stefano Grosso; assistant director, Pasquale Calone; casting, Alessandra Cutolo. 8 MIN.
With: Gaetano Bruno, Emanuel Caserio, Fortunato Leccese, Emiliano Masala, Paolo Comite, Federico Di Costanzo, Laurent Gjeci, Hans Peter Gottardi, Paolo Iezzi, Andrea Meneghello, Gianni Ortoleva. (Italian dialogue)

Princip, Text
A Unafilm production. Directed, written by Angela Schanelec. Camera (color, widescreen), Reinhold Vorschneider; editor, Helle le Fevre; music, Outro (Celo & Abdi); sound, Predrag Doder, Frank Kruse, Matthias Lempert; casting, Timka Grahic. 5 MIN.

With: Vedad Kovacevic, Melisa Kadrovic. (German, Serbian dialogue)

Das Spektrum Europas
An Obala Art Centar, deFilm, Digital Cube production. Produced by Mirsad Purivatra, Izeta Gradevic, Jovan Marjanovic. Co-producers, Cristian Nicolescu, Radu Stancu. Directed, written by Cristi Puiu. Camera (color, widescreen), Luchian Ciobanu; editor, Ion Ioachim Stroe; production designer, Cristina Barbu; costume designer, Maria Pitea; sound, Andre Rigaut; line producers, Radu Stancu, Ognjen Dizdarevic; assistant director, Razvan Marchis. 10 MIN.
With: Marian Ralea, Valeria Seciu. (Romanian, French dialogue)

The Bridge of Sighs
A L’Atelier production. Directed, written, edited by Jean-Luc Godard. Camera (color, widescreen), Godard. 8 MIN.
With: Fabrice Aragno, Jean-Paul Battaggia, Paul Grivas. (French dialogue)

An Atoms & Void production. Produced by Maria Choustova-Baker. Directed, written by Sergei Loznitsa. Camera (B&W, widescreen), Oleg Mutu; editors, Danielius Kokanauskis, Loznitsa; sound, Vladimir Golovnitski, Jonas Maksvytis; associate producers, Valentina Mikhaleva, Galina Sementseva, Lev Karakhan; photographs, Milomir Kovacevic Strasni. 8 MIN.

Zan’s Journey
A Cineteve production. Directed, written by Marc Recha. Camera (color, widescreen), Diego Dussuel; editor, Belen Lopez; music, Pau Recha; sound, Daniel Fontrodona, Fabiola Ordoyo; line producer, Jofre Farre; assistant director, Pol Rodriguez. 8 MIN.
With: Mak Dzinovic, Zlatko Dzinovic, Muamer Dzinovic, Zenana Brcic, Safija Brcic, Hatidza Hozo, Aljosa Ajanovic. (Catalan dialogue)

An Obala Art Centar production. Produced by Mirsad Purivatra, Izeta Gradevic, Jovan Marjanovic. Directed, written by Aida Begic. Camera (B&W/color, widescreen), Erol Zubcevic; editor, Redzinald Simek; sound, Nirvan Imamovic, Igor Camo; line producer, Ognjen Dizdarevic; assistant director, Zulfikar Filandra; casting, Timka Grahic. 8 MIN.

With: Amir Mujezin, Anel Sahinovic, Behija Alic, Darko Trajkovic, Edin Avdagic-Koja, Elma Selimovic, Haris Grizovic, Irena Mulamuhic, Isa El-ali, Munevera Omanovic, Samka Puskar-Kovacevic, Sandro Trbic, Sefket Dzambic, Tarik Cehic, Zijada Smajic. (Bosnian dialogue)

Sara and Her Mother
An Ukbar Filmes production. Produced by Pandora da Cunha Telles, Pablo Iraola. Directed, written by Teresa Villaverde. Camera (color, widescreen), Rui Pocas; editor, Andree Davanture;
sound, Vasco Pimentel, Elsa Ferreira; assistant director, Paulo Belem; casting, Timka Grahic. 9 MIN.
With: Sabina Sabic Zlatar, Sara Sabic Zlatar, Senaida K., Mak Hubjer. (Bosnian dialogue)

The Bridge
A MIR Cinematografica production. Produced by Francesco Virga. Directed, written by Vincenzo Marra. Camera (color, widescreen), Duccio Cimatti; editor, Massimiliano Pacifico; production designer, Alessandra Mura; sound, Gianluca Costamagna, Mirko Perri; assistant director, Cinzia Castania; casting, Francesca Sambataro, Annamaria Sambucco. 9 MIN.

With: Fatima Nejmarlija, Majo Ivkovic. (Bosnian, Italian dialogue)

Little Boy
A Cineteve production. Produced by Nicolas Hidiroglou. Directed, written by Isild Le Besco. Camera (color, widescreen), Lada Paradzik; editor, Nihad Usanovic; sound, Allan Omerovic, Igor Camo; assistant director, Paradzik. 5 MIN.

With: Ulysse, Amina Husic, Fadila Guska, Sida Mocevic, Marija Ivancevic.
Voice: Din Ferizaj. (Bosnian dialogue)

Quiet Mujo
A Band a Part Films production. Directed by Ursula Meier. Screenplay, Antoine Jaccoud, Ursula Meier. Camera (color, widescreen), Agnes Godard; editor, Nelly Quettier; production designer, Jasmin Sahinpasic; costume designer, Emina Kujundzic; sound, Henri Maikoff, Etienne Curchod, Aline Gavroy, Philippe van Leer; line producer, Agnieszka Ramu. 10 MIN.
With: Vladan Kovacevic, Alma Prica, Sead Jesenkovic, Dzevad Zafirovic, Anur Musovic. (Bosnian dialogue)

Cannes Film Review: 'The Bridges of Sarajevo'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Special Screenings), May 22, 2014. Running time: 114 MIN.

Production: (France-Bosnia-Herzegovina-Switzerland-Italy-Germany-Portugal-Bulgaria) A Rezo Film (France)/Filmcoopi Zurich (Switzerland) release of a Rezo Films, Orange Studio presentation of a Cineteve, Obala Art Centar, Bande a part Films, Mir Cinematografica, Unafilm, Ukbar Filmes, the First World War Centenary Mission, France 2 Cinema, RAI Cinema, RTS Radio Television Suisse production, with the participation of France Televisions, with the support of the Sarajevo Film Festival. (International sales: Indie Sales, Paris.) Produced by Fabienne Servan Schreiber, Laurence Miller, Mirsad Purivatra, Jovan Marjanovic, Baier/Bron/Meier/Mermoud, Francesco Virga, Gianfilippo Pedote, Pandora da Cunha Telles, Pablo Iraola, Titus Kreyenberg.  

Crew: Artistic director, Jean-Michel Frodon; drawings, Francois Schuiten; animation, Luis da Matta Almeida; sound (Dolby 5.1), Joao Ganho.

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