Wednesday, May 02, 2012

BHFF ’12: Shorts sampler

Is it possible to lead a normal life after witnessing the horrors of war?  During the upcoming 2012 Bosnian-HerzegovinianFilm Festival, at least two short films will directly grapple with that question, while one suggests it is indeed possible, through its very example.

One of the best shorts just hitting the festival circuit, Jons Vukorep’s outstanding Short for Vernesa B. is a lamenting tribute to Bosnian actress-vocalist Vernesa Berbo, starring Vernesa Berbo.  Through a complicated narrative structure, it depicts the challenges of her life after seeking asylum in Germany.  It is hard to analyze in-depth, without comprising the initial viewing experience, but it is safe to say Berbo is a very compelling screen presence.

Sadly, many viewers will have a good idea where Elvir Muminović’s Neverending Story is headed, but it is still a powerful trip.  Emir was also an asylum seeker in Germany, who eventually met and married Kirsten.  When a miscarriage ends their hopes of having their own children, they turn to his native Bosnia with the intention of adopting.  They find the perfect girl, but the revelation she is in fact Serbian causes a deep fissure between the couple.  Muminović eschews neat and tidy Oprah lessons, forcing the audience to face up to some hard facts about human nature.

In marked contrast, Al Mehičević’s English language Gold Diggers is a humorous anecdotal film in the tradition of O. Henry.  As it opens, three miners trapped by a cave-in are eagerly anticipating their thirty minutes of fame as they await their imminent rescue.  However, when their mistresses confront their wives at the disaster site, the media gets wind of a bigger story.  Gold Diggers is amusing but rather light weight.  Frankly, it is the sort of short that plays well at festivals, but its appearance here is somewhat significant.  Never referencing the war (which would be out of place in this context), it has none of the terrible weight of history distinguishing many Bosnian films in recent years.  Rather, it takes a potential tragedy and turns it into a vehicle for comedy.

Indeed, the paradox of the annual Bosnian-Herzegovinian Film Festival is that it is one of the friendliest and most welcoming festivals in New York, screening some of the deepest, most elegiac films.  (Of course there are always notable exceptions, like last year’s drolly entertaining music documentary White Button.)  A now well-established tradition coming hard on the heels of Tribeca, the BHFF is once again highly recommended, featuring many excellent short films making their American debuts.  It opens tomorrow (5/3) with Danis Tanović’s sensitively rendered Cirkus Columbia, featuring the great Miki Manojlović, and ends this Saturday (5/5) with Angelina Jolie’s In the Land of Blood and Honey.