There are very few concepts in modern filmmaking as difficult to pull off and as ungrateful in their results as the contemporary omnibus film - a genre that had its peaks in the fifties and sixties but that has since been usually resurrected for institutional or worthy projects, ending up as mere curios designed by committee.
On paper, The Bridges of Sarajevo is such a pudding, with a series of producers from all over Europe commissioning a baker's dozen of directors to create shorts inspired by the centenary of the assassination of archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo that plunged Europe into World War I, with the Bosnian city as a recurring thematic or formal element. The main difference is that The Bridges of Sarajevo has been "curated" by an outside artistic director, French critic and journalist Jean-Michel Frodon, who assembled a rather impressive roster of contemporary European directors, from the well-established to the up-and-coming.
The first episode, Bulgarian Kamen Kalev's oneiric recreation of the last hours of Franz Ferdinand, sets the ball rolling on a freeform series of meditations on Sarajevo's tortured, pivotal role in European history. But only Mr. Kalev's My Dear Night and Italian director Leonardo di Costanzo's The Outpost, inspired by a short story by Federico de Roberto, are out and out period pieces, with Vladimir Perišić's Our Shadows' Will and German Angela Schanelec's desultory Princip, Text (a disappointing outing by a usually fascinating director) blending the events of 1914 into after-the-fact, contemporary-set essays. After that, The Bridges of Sarajevo pretty much becomes a litany of stories inspired by or derived from the bloody Balkan war that disintegrated the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s.
As the focus closes in on the painful recent history of Sarajevo, which has by now been the subject of many European films, the project becomes less and less interesting, more hackneyed; the finest skits reference in oblique but interesting ways the inexorable pull of history, like Romanian Cristi Puiu's Das Spektrum Europas, a slow-burn satire that ingeniously devastates European prejudice in a single one-take bedroom shot, or Mr. Perišić's dissociated phantasmagoria of images and soundtrack around the statements made by the 1914 conspirators.
Others work within a format more close to documentary. Belorussian Sergei Loznitsa's Reflections is an austere sequence of portraits of fighters in the Balkan wars superimposed on contemporary Sarajevo landscapes; Bosnian Aida Begić's Album is a heartfelt assemblage of flashes of memory and thoughts from folk who survived the conflicts; French actress Isild le Besco's Little Boy is a fly-on-the-wall portrait, neither documentary nor fiction, of a young boy whose daily struggles can be an immense adventure. And then there's the eternal weave of veteran Jean-Luc Godard, whose video-essay The Bridge of Sighs is a mere playful footnote to his many works on the subject of the Bosnian war, Sarajevo and the intersection of modern History with art.
Generally, the more openly narrative the episode, the least interesting; the absolute nadir is Spaniard Marc Recha's litany of pseudo-poetic clichés about a family relocated to Catalonia, Zan's Journey, whereas Switzerland's Ursula Meier and Portugal's Teresa Villaverde create slender, charming stories that reflect their usual thematic preoccupations but truly bring nothing new to the table.
The end result of The Bridges of Sarajevo is certainly more cohesive and coherent than most omnibuses tend to be, and there is indeed a stronger throughline, both artistic and thematic, connecting the episodes (beyond François Schuiten's and Luís da Matta Almeida's elegant but overly symbolic animated interludes). But that doesn't make the project any more enticing or exciting; just another institutional omnibus whose inherent worthiness and niceness fails to result in a film artistically or thematically strong or enticing enough for people to get up and see it.
PONTS DE SARAJEVO
France, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Switzerland, Italy, Portugal, Germany 2014
MA CHÈRE NUIT (My Dear Night)
Cast Samuel Finzi, Gilles Tschudi; director and screenwriter Kamen Kalev; cinematographer Julian Atanassov (colour, widescreen); composer Kaloyan Dimitrov; designer Svilen Nokolov and Marin Panovski; costumes Krasimira Vringova; editor Xavier Sirven; producer Filip Todorov
AU GRÉ DE NOS OMBRES (Our Shadows Will)
Director and screenwriter Vladimir Perišić; cinematographer Simon Beaufils (colour); editor Jelena Maksimović; producers Mirsad Purivatra, Izeta Gradević and Jovan Marjanović
L'AVANT-POSTE (The Outpost)
Cast Gaetano Bruno, Emanuel Caserio, Fortunato Leccese, Emiliano Masala; director Leonardo di Costanzo; screenwriters Maurizio Braucci and Mr. di Costanzo; based on the short story La Paura by Federico de Roberto; cinematographer Luca Bigazzi (colour); designer Giliano Carli; costumes Andrea Taddia; editor Carlotta Cristiani; producer Francesco Virga
PRINCIP, TEXTE (Princip, Text)
Cast Vedad Kovačević, Melisa Kadrović; director and screenwriter Angela Schanelec; cinematographer Reinhold Vorschneider (colour); editor Helle le Fevre
RÉVEILLON (Das Spektrum Europas)
Cast Marian Rălea, Valeria Seciu; director and screenwriter Cristi Puiu; cinematographer Luchian Ciobanu (colour); designer Cristina Barbu; costumes Maria Pitea; editor Ion Ioachim Stroe; producers Mr. Purivatra, Ms. Gradević and Mr. Marjanović
LE PONT DES SOUPIRS (The Bridge of Sighs)
Made by Jean-Luc Godard, Fabrice Aragno, Jean-Paul Battaggia and Paul Grivas
Director Sergei Loznitsa; portraits by Milomir Kovačević Strašni; cinematographer Oleg Mutu (B&W); editors Danielius Kokanauskis and Mr. Loznitsa; producer Maria Choustova-Baker
LE VOYAGE DE ZAN (Zan's Journey)
Cast Mak Dzinovic, Zlatko Dzinovic, Muammer Dzinovic, Zenana Brcic; director and screenwriter Marc Recha; cinematographer Diego Dussuel (colour); composer Pau Recha; editor Belén López
Director and screenwriter Aida Begić; cinematographer Erol Zubčević (B&W and colour); editor Redžinald Šimek; producers Mr. Purivatra, Ms. Gradević and Mr. Marjanović
SARA ET SA MÈRE (Sara and Her Mother)
Cast Sabina Šabiđ Zlatan, Sara Šabić Zlatan, Senaida K.; director and screenwriter Teresa Villaverde; cinematographer Rui Poças (colour); editor Andrée Davanture; producers Pandora da Cunha Telles and Pablo Iraola
LE PONT (The Bridge)
Cast Fatima Nejmarlika, Majo Ivkovic; director and screenwriter Vincenzo Marra; cinematographer Duccio Cimatti (colour); designer Alessandra Mura; editor Massimiliano Pacifico; producer Francesco Virga
LITTLE BOY (Little Boy)
Cast Ulysse, Amina Husic; director and screenwriter Isild le Besco; cinematographer Jowan le Besco (colour); editor Nihad Usanovic; producer Nicolas Hidiroglou
SILENCE MUJO (Silence Mujo)
Cast Vladan Kovačević, Alma Prica, Sead Jesenković; director Ursula Meier; screenwriters Antoine Jaccoud and Ms. Meier; cinematographer Agnès Godard (colour); designer Jasmin Šahinpašić; costumes Emina Kujundžić; editor Nelly Quettier
Concept and direction, François Schuiten and Luís da Matta Almeida; animation directors, Sara Naves and Mr. Matta Almeida
General editor Susana Kounjian; producers Fabienne Servan Schreiber, Laurence Miller, Mr. Purivatra, Mr. Marjanović, Lionel Baier, Jean-Stéphane Bron, Ms. Meier, Frédéric Mermoud, Mr. Virga, Gianfilippo Pedote, Ms. Cunha Telles, Mr. Iraola and Titus Kreyenberg; production companies Cinétévé, Obala Art Centar, Bande à Part Films, Mir Cinematografica, Ukbar Filmes and Unafilm in co-production with the Mission for the Centenary of World War I, France 2 Cinéma, Orange Studio, Rai Cinema, Radio Télévision Suisse and Orange Studio
Screened November 9th 2014, Lisbon (distributor screener DVD)