GRBAVICA (Jasmila Žbanić, 2006)

In Grbavica, a district of Sarajevo that had been a site of torture during the Balkan War, and near where mass graves are still being unearthed, single mother Esma has been raising Sara, now 12, to believe that her father was a Slaheed, a Muslim “war martyr.” In truth, Sara is the result of Esma’s having been raped in a prisoner-of-war camp, where Serbians kept “coming at” Esma in “two’s and three’s” even while she was pregnant. As Sara remains ignorant of her father, her mother still waits to discover the fate of her own father in the war. Survivors stay in the war’s tight grip.
     The plot is melodramatic, what with Sara’s needing a certificate to authenticate her father’s Muslim status in order to qualify for a cut rate for her school class trip, and her mother, unable to produce this, working two back-breaking jobs, in a factory and as a waitress in a mobster-owned club, in order to raise the full cost. But writer-director Jasmila Žbanić treats the material sensitively, homing in on the complex mother-daughter relationship and the cautious approach mother and daughter each makes to the possibility of romance. Grbavica is a film about the crippling rubble in which war and brutal occupation leaves “civilian” lives. By a stroke of irony, Esma’s boyfriend is a hit man and Sara’s is a schoolmate with a gun. Sara learns the full truth of her parentage only after demanding it from her mother at gunpoint.
     First-time filmmaker Žbanić isn’t a profound artist, but she has wrought a bleak, absorbing piece that at turns visually echoes moments from François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959) and Vittorio De Sica’s Two Women (La Ciociara, 1960). Grbavica took the top prize at Berlin.
     The upbeat finish, alas, rings false.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s