Thursday, May 09, 2013

BHFF ’13: Children of Sarajevo

War is not conducive to stronger family values.  It is not great for the economy either.  One Bosnian woman will struggle with both aspects of the war’s trying aftermath in Aida Begić’s Children of Sarajevo (trailer here), which opens the 2013 Bosnian-Herzegovinian Film Festival in New York tonight at the Tribeca Cinemas.

Rahima and her younger brother Nehim are war orphans.  Although they spent the better part of the war in separate orphanages, she has temporarily assumed custody.  However, busy-body social workers constantly torment her with their condescending intrusions.  Working semi-off the books in the kitchen of a mobbed-up restaurant, she is in a difficult position, made more difficult by Nehim’s behavioral issues.  Things only get worse when he gets into a fight with a politician’s son.

Begić clearly establishes exactly how Rahima’s tribulations are fundamental rooted in the recent war, without ever belaboring her points.  Slowly, we learn only Nehim started acting out in response to the mockery he faced at school when she began wearing the headscarf that she adopted as a source of solace. Similarly, we gradually come to understand the severity of Rahima’s post-traumatic stress as she goes about her daily routine.

“Routine” is the correct word.  Children is a quiet, intimately observed drama that fully captures the monotony of Rahima’s struggle.  We revisit the same stretch of her decaying urban environment, time and again.  This might peel off some antsier viewers, but Begić fully captures the realities of life for marginalized survivors like Rahima.

As Rahima, Marija Pikić subtly conveys multitudes of anger and desperation, often relying solely on body language or a fleeting glance.  When late in the third act when Rahima privately removes her headscarf, viewers will realize the truly chameleon-like nature of the striking Pikić’s performance.  Ismar Gagula certainly makes a convincingly petulant teenager, but Nikola Đuričko leaves a more lasting impression as Tarik, Rahima’s would be suitor of ambiguous character.

Periodically, Begić eerily incorporates archival footage of the Siege of Sarajevo, underscoring the lingering influence of the war.  Implying much, she relies on viewers to fill in considerable gaps, yet she methodically leads us into some very dark places.  Although Children unquestionably qualifies as “art cinema,” it showcases some powerful work from Pikić and Begić.  Recommended for adult attention spans, Children of Sarajevo screens as the feature part of Program 1, launching the 2013 BHFF tonight (5/9) in New York.