An uncommon motorcycle club led by Bosnian War veterans finds redemption helping their struggling small town heal and defending the threatened herd of wild horses they first met on the front line.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is not often favorably portrayed in the media: a war-torn, desolate land struck by poverty and inhabited by aggrieved savages. Shawn Convey’s Among Wolves offers a spark of hope in the admittedly bleak Bosnian society it depicts, paving the way for more accurate cinematic representations of the struggling country in the future, as well as showing that, even among the most vicious of wolves, warmth and affection can be found.
The small town Livno is on its last breath, having suffered what may be irreparable damages from the war. “Young people are leaving. Schools are being closed…If you don’t have young people, you die,” says one of the town’s inhabitants. Good thing they have the Wolves Moto Club, a beacon of hope in a crumbling community. Consisting of a dozen or so Bosnian War veterans, the Club participates in grimy bike rallies and grimier parties – but all in good fun. Forgotten after the war, just like Livno, the bikers are initially displayed as anarchic rebels, but in actuality abide by a strict set of rules, enforced by their leader, and the film’s protagonist, the soulful Lija.
“Good thing they have the Wolves Moto Club, a beacon of hope in a crumbling community…”
Among Wolves loves its juxtapositions: new generations replace older ones. “Twenty-something-year-old members don’t understand,” comments Lija sadly. “They don’t understand life, what can happen.” Wild horses, unafraid of people (who happen to embody their biggest threat), graze in open fields that still have mines decaying underneath the serenity, remnants of hellish days past. Mean-looking bikers are actually their saviors, the men’s gatherings resembling town meetings.
“If I had to be a member of a club just for riding and having drinks, I wouldn’t be its member,” Lija states. They donate blood, bring clothes to local sheepherders, in addition to numerous others things that may help restore a dying town. A tragic accident towards the end reinforces the doc’s themes of mortality’s inevitability and doing the most with what little time we have.
Lija, a hardened war vet who’s been through prison and seen his share of battle, is now a loving father. It is his mission to protect the horses, who’ve had their own share of atrocities inflicted upon them by humans, who, I assume, represent the titular wolves. He’s seen helping the stallions cross busy roads, guiding them to water, and generally protecting them from “the Man.” Is he seeking salvation from the “parts of [the war] that [he] probably brought with [him] to the Wolves?” the documentary asks. Like a wounded horse seen in one of the doc’s more unforgettable images, “he can only rescue himself.”
“…a subliminally powerful…statement on achieving redemption in a seemingly doomed place.”
The director catches insightful, fascinating glimpses into human behavior through long, crisp, static shots. “I drove this in Kraljevo in 1991,” Lija comments during the bikers’ fascinating visit to a decrepit tank museum. They laugh and climb machines of destruction, reminiscing about the old days. They shoot weapons out in the wilderness at twilight. Convey’s approach is meditative (read: very slow), his own beautiful cinematography of desolate vistas echoing the doc’s contemplative mood.
With nary a musical cue to tell us how to feel, Among Wolves is a subliminally powerful – if perhaps a tad too minimalist – statement on achieving redemption in a seemingly doomed place. While Convey’s doc may prove to be too slow for some, it provides a carefully-crafted look inside an often-neglected part of the world – and at the human kindness that has the capacity to inspire hope even in the bleakest of circumstances.
Among Wolves (2019) Directed by Shawn Convey. Written by Kevin Ripp. Citizens of Livno and members of the Wolves Moto Club.
7 out of 10