Thursday, May 21, 2015

BHFFNYC ’15: Bridges of Sarajevo

The image in your mind’s eye a bridge in Bosnia-Herzegovina is probably the destroyed and subsequently rebuilt Stari Most in Mostar. Nevertheless, there are plenty of bridges in the capital city of Sarajevo, architecturally and metaphorically. Indeed, they serve as both backdrops and symbols in Bridges of Sarajevo (trailer here), an anthology film conceived by French film critic Jean-Michel Frodon, which screens during the 2015 Bosnian Herzegovinian Film Festival in New York, kicking off tonight at the Tribeca Cinemas.

Yes, anthology films are usually uneven and Bridges is especially so, with the highs being particularly high and the lows being Jean-Luc Godard. Happily it starts off with a strong entry, Kamen Kalev’s “My Dear Night,” depicting the final hours of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, much like a moody, almost Shakespearean tragedy. True, we know how it must end, but Samuel Finzi is quietly riveting as the doomed aristocrat. It is probably the one segment that has both the merit and the elastic capacity to be expanded into a feature.

WWI is a major focus in Bridges, continuing with Vladimir Perišić’s somewhat experimental “Our Shadows Will,” which overlays audio excerpts from Gavrilo Princip’s pan-Slavic, crypto-socialist confession with contemporary scenes of disaffected nationalist and leftist youth. It is a bold juxtaposition, but Perišić simply does not have the time to fully develop the idea.

Leonardo di Costanzo’s “The Outpost” is a technically polished segment portraying the exploited enlisted Italian peasantry struggling with the horrors and absurdities of WWI. The tactile feeling of the constituent film is impressive, but it is more of a sketch than a full dramatic arc. Likewise, Angela Schanelec’s “Princip, Text” takes much the same approach as Perišić’s contribution, but it is less provocative. Cristi Puiu also shows a preoccupation with text, much in the spirit of Porumboiu’s Police, Adjective. As satire, “Das Spektrum Europas” seems to cut both ways, eavesdropping on a tired married couple as they dissect Keyserling’s early Twentieth Century analysis of the Balkans from an anti-American and borderline anti-Semitic perspective.

Godard’s “The Bridge of Sighs” is an eight minute mashed together collage that is more watchable than his last two features, for what that’s worth. Regardless, if you seriously follow or cover world cinema, you really need to see it, just to be able to render a fuller judgement on his late career years. Sergei Loznitsa’s “Reflections” is also collage-like in form, but visually it is exceptionally arresting. Essentially, Loznitsa overlays Milomir Kovacevic’s war photographs with present day Sarajevo street scenes, achieving a truly ghostly effect.

Marc Recha’s “Zan’s Journey is more or less an exercise in oral history, but his subject’s memories are truly moving. Aida Begić (whose feature Children of Sarajevo played the 2013 BHFF) incorporates many such voices into “Album,” selecting several brief but unusually telling recollections of the workaday trials of life during the war.

Then Isild Le Besco adds a graceful humanist touch to Bridges with “Little Boy,” the story of a plucky five year old survivor, now living with his grandmother. Themes of youth and the loss of innocence also factor prominently in Ursula Meier’s concluding “Quiet Mujo,” featuring an extraordinary lead performance from Vladan Kovacevic, as a young orphan who encounters a grieving professional woman at a cemetery’s boundary between Muslim and Christian sections.

Frankly, the contributions of Meier, Loznitsa, and Kalev easily justify a ticket to Bridges. Recha, Le Besco, Begić, and Perišić also have some real substance to offer. For film snobs, it even represents an opportunity to catch up on recent work from major auteurs like Meier, Puiu, and (Heaven help us) Godard. While viewers need to go in understanding some pieces work better than others, the entire package is highly recommended because the good parts are so good. It screens Friday night (5/22) as part of this year’s Bosnian Herzegovinian Film Festival in New York.