As If I Am Not There

As If I Am Not There

****

Reviewed by: Robert Munro

With Ratko Mladic’s arrest and ongoing trial at the Hague for alleged war crimes during the Bosnian War, Juanita Wilson’s debut feature, As If I Am Not There, serves as a timely reminder of the atrocities suffered during the period, and the difficulty in resuming any sense of normality in its aftermath.

Based on Croatian writer Slavenka Drakulic’s best-selling novel of the same name, the film tells the story of Samira, a young teacher who arrives in a small rural village as supply cover. A classroom quip from a mischievous boy alerts us to the fact that teachers seem to be abandoning this school. We soon learn why.


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An armed gang of rebel soldiers appear in town, and in an act of apparent ethnic cleansing murder the men of the village. The women are herded onto buses at gunpoint and taken to live in a remote camp in a dusty and forgotten corner of Bosnia. The atrocities worsen in the camp, as the women are habitually beaten and raped, the film not willing to shy away from the horrific and brutal consequences of civil war. One scene in particular, in which Samira is forced to ‘entertain’ three drunken soldiers, proves extremely uncomfortable viewing. She quickly learns that to survive in the camp she must regain her dignity as a woman, in order to sell it to the men, rather than have it taken from her.

It is in this complex act of defiance and prostitution that Samira negotiates her way around the most unsavoury acts of camp life. She manages to draw the attention of the Captain of the rebel soldiers, thus escaping the less refined advances of the frontline squaddies for the more sophisticated and tolerable abuse of the senior officer.

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This troubling period of Europe’s recent history is given due reverence by the filmmakers. Samira’s personal battle for survival acts as a filter through which we arrive at a broader appreciation of the fear and despair of civil war. Her advances with the captain eventually enable her to leave the camp. She journeys home via bus through a country destroyed and broken: rubble lies where buildings once stood, while silence fills the air which once carried the laughter of love ones.

Natasha Petrovic infuses the role of Samira with a quiet, stoic dignity, that is both heart-breaking and inspiring. We hardly hear 20 lines of dialogue from her throughout the entirety of the film, but such is the strength of her performance, and Wilson’s sensitive direction, that her journey becomes a shared experience.

Last year Juanita Wilson’s short film, The Door (which you can watch below), received an Oscar nomination, as well as universal acclaim, as a bleak and troubling drama. With As If I Am Not There, Wilson has certainly built upon those strong foundations to provide a terrifying, brave and thoughtful film.

THE DOOR - Short Film from Octagon Films on Vimeo.

Reviewed on: 10 Jul 2011
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As If I Am Not There packshot
A schoolteacher suffers brutality at the hands of Serb soldiers during the Bosnian War.
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Director: Juanita Wilson

Starring: Natasa Petrovic, Stellan Skarsgård, Fedja Stukan, Nikolina Kujaca, Zvezda Angelovska, Jasna Diklic, Katina Ivanova, Sanja Buric,

Year: 2010

Runtime: 109 minutes

Country: Ireland, Bosnia

Festivals:

Bradford 2011

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