It seems fairly unavoidable that any contemporary film coming from the territories that comprised the former Yugoslavia will reference the fratricidal Balkan conflict in some way. Muslim Bosnian director Aida Begić's sophomore work (co-produced by Turkish director Semih Kaplanoğlu and shortlisted for the Foreign Film Academy Award) is no exception. Though set in modern-day Sarajevo, like the films of her better-known compatriot Jasmila Žbanić, her bleak, doom-laden tale of two war-orphan siblings has roots in the fallout from the war and the resentment that still seethes under the surface.

     Rahima (Marija Pikić), an orphan who chooses to wear a head-covering scarf and works long shifts as a cook, and her schoolboy brother Nedim (Ismir Gagula), are fingered at every moment as "the other", tainted, bullied, exploited, picked upon, taunted, looked down upon, treated generally as second rate citizens. The film takes place during the run-up to Christmas and the New Year, with the eternally cash-strapped Rahima suddenly forced to find a way to pay for the expensive smartphone of a classmate that Nedim broke, and Ms. Begić slowly lets us know there are other reasons for her straits (a troubled past that is constantly being dragged out in front of her but never truly explained to the viewer.

     The director amplifies the feeling of fighting the world every single moment by taking a leaf out of the Dardenne brothers' playbook: her camera follows Ms. Pikić from the back as she walks to work or back home, looking over her shoulder as she cooks, shops, works or talks. Coupled with an interesting, constant usage of the long take, the many uninterrupted shots create a strong sense of discomfort and unpredictability, successfully placing the viewer in Rahima's shoes. However, despite the technical proficiency and the excellent performance by Ms. Pikić, Ms. Begić is really not bringing much new: the relatively slim narrative structure where mood trumps story, the bleakness of the worldview, the though-through handling are staples of contemporary social art-house cinema that the director employs intelligently but to no differentiating effect. Not a bad movie by any means, Children of Sarajevo simply doesn't bring enough to the table to earn its place.

Cast: Marija Pikić, Ismir Gagula

Director and writer: Aida Begić
Cinematography: Erol Zubčević
Designer: Sanda Popovac
Costumes: Sanja Džeba
Editor: Miralem S. Zubčević
Producer: Ms. Begić (Film House Sarajevo in co-production with Rohfilm, Les Films de l'Après-Midi, Kaplan Film and ZDF/ARTE)
Bosnia-Herzegovina/Germany/France/Turkey, 2012, 90 minutes

Screened: Lisbon & Estoril Film Festival competition screening, Medeia Monumental 1 (Lisbon), November 10th 2012

djeca from Film House on Vimeo.


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