When No Man's Land won Best Foreign Picture at the 2001 Oscars, I was a little surprised. I had not seen the film, but the only one I knew about in that category was Amelie, that funny French film that was nearly flawless, and because that was the only one that had received any kind of attention in the United States, that was the one I expected to win. Alas, my pick was muted by this Bosnian film about a fictitious situation in the 1993 conflict with Serbia. Having watched the film, this is what I have to say:
No Man's Land is not as good as Amelie. It is not as funny, not as smart, and definitely not as entertaining, but then again, a war drama-comedy cannot be compared very well to a romance comedy set in France. So, granted that, No Man's Land is a very well done film with a good message to tell and a shocking ending.
No Man's Land tells the story of two men, a Serb and a Bosnian, who get stranded in between their two lines. As time goes on, they try to attract the attention of their respective sides for help, all the while having to deal with the fact that they are sitting next to their enemy. Occasionally, they get along - they know some common people - but, then again, they are enemies, and enemies don't hug each other, especially when they have guns. To make matters worse, there is another soldier stuck on top of a mine; if he moves, they all die. The UN is brought in to help, but in between handling the media and these soldiers, things are not as easy, nor as moral, as one would think. It is a story of similarity in the face of war, and criticism of the way the UN and the media handles things from a neutral standpoint.
No Man's Land has a witty script, enough so to be considered a comedy, but just barely. I was expecting a much more lighthearted film, but instead got something dark enough to qualify as a normal war film, only without the warfare. People die, tensions are raised, and politics are brought into the fold. These elements, combined with a slightly comical script, make for problems.
It works well as a drama. It has a good message to tell and does so fairly well, especially near the end when everything goes to tell. The last few minutes are silently shocking. However, since No Man's Land has a comical flare to it, it is hard to tell just how seriously the filmmakers wanted their movie taken. They still get the point across, but had this movie been raw drama - hardly any comedy - I would have thought even higher of it. The comedy and drama just don't mix in this film.
Of course, some people might point out that Life is Beautiful was a comedy that had more than enough dark moments to take seriously. The only difference between the approach in Life is Beautiful (for those of you who don't remember, a shoe-in for Best Foreign film a couple of years ago) and No Man's Land is that Life is Beautiful just did things better. It was a better movie, and told things with more skill.
No Man's Land is a very good movie, but Oscar-worthy it is not.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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