Tuesday, May 24, 2016

BHFFNYC ’16: One Day in Sarajevo

At least in one respect, life in Sarajevo has changed for the better since the 100th anniversary of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination in 2014. After three years in mothballs, the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina has re-opened, in part thanks to a donation from the U.S. Embassy. The Archduke came to Sarajevo to preside over an opening ceremony at the museum, but as you might have heard, he never made it. Jasmila Žbanić samples the wide spectrum of Bosnian opinion on Franz Ferdinand and the trigger-man Gavrilo Princip, while documenting the commemorative festivities through crowd-sourced footage in the docu-essay One Day in Sarajevo, which screens during the eagerly anticipated 2016 Bosnian-Herzegovinian Film Festival in New York.

To some Sarajevans, Princip was a righteous anti-Imperialist resistance fighter, while others are understandably put off by his Greater Serbian ideology. The latter often recognize the Archduke’s sadly unrealized policies for decentralizing and liberalizing the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Frankly, it is hard to understand the affection for Princip, given how his attack directly led to WWI, which in turn sowed the seeds of WWII, which subsequently led into the Cold War, and eventually the Balkan War, but maybe you have to give him some credit for punching above his weight class.

Naturally, there are a number of festivities underway that Žbanić frames to maximize the irony. However, she also captures the “you can’t go home again” emotions of a Canadian émigré’s return visit with his preteen daughters. Perhaps the most poignant moments are the nearly empty museum, where unpaid staffers still show up for work daily to keep up basic maintenance and prevent theft. Although Žbanić’s cameras document it as its loneliest and shabbiest, the museum is still a lovely building with great potential (so it is nice to know it is now serving its proper function).

In between the crowd scenes, cab rides, and general life happening, Žbanić inter-splices scenes from various cinematic portrayals of Franz Ferdinand’s fateful motorcade. Spoiler alert: it always ends badly for the Archduke. Sometimes One Day in Sarajevo feels like Žbanić is just hitting the random button, but there are enough interesting moments to make it worthwhile, especially when seen with a knowing audience, like Bosnian-Herzegovinian Festival’s patrons. Recommended for those in the mood for some provocative sight-seeing, One Day in Sarajevo screens this Thursday (5/26) at the SVA Theatre, as part of this year’s BHNYC. (The brutally powerful No One’s Son is even more forcefully recommended when it also screens earlier in the evening.)