By Michael Dequina | March 24, 2002

Danis Tanovic’s film festival favorite (including at Cannes, where it took the best screenplay prize) sounds like the recipe for a pretension, hamfisted message movie. In 1993 at the height of the Bosnian conflict, a Bosnian soldier named Ciki (Branko Djuric) and a Serbian one named Nino (Rene Bitorajac) are stranded together in a trench that lay between enemy lines (hence, “no man’s land”) as a third soldier, a Bosnian (Filip Sovagovic), lay on top of an active mine that will detonate if he moves. Issues of tolerance are addressed and lessons are learned…
…though not quite in the way one would expect, for Tanovic approaches the serious issues with a certain amount of humor (albeit dark). This primarily comes in his skewering of the circus that brews around the trench once word hits the United Nations peacekeepers and world news media. The U.N., represented by a particularly inept English colonel (Simon Callow), wants a quick and quiet resolution to the situation, which certainly won’t come as long as pushy Global News Service reporter Jane Livingstone (Katrin Cartlidge) sticks her nose in all the wrong places to get her story, much to the exasperation of an overwhelmed U.N. French “blue helmet” officer (Georges Siatidis).
But standing most in the way of a tidy ending are the two at-odds soldiers themselves, who despite the numerous things they have in common (in addition to language, it turns out both men even once dated the same girl) can never put aside their petty, pointless, war-engineered hatred of each other. Tanovic never takes sides, shifting sympathies toward the two sides constantly as well as investing a certain level of humanity to the outside characters (the French officer is particularly sympathetic). While the audience has its laughs along the way, the violent tension of war often threatens to erupt, and slowly, subtly gathering force is the film’s emotional weight, which is potently felt by the film’s indelible (if not exactly unexpected) concluding image.

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