Wednesday, May 20, 2015

BHFFNYC ’15: The Sarajevo Assassination

Many historians believe Archduke Franz Ferdinand was far more progressive than your typical early Twentieth Century aristocrat. He generally advocated for greater decentralization of power and provisionally lent his support to the unlikely concept of a “United States of Austria.” Unfortunately, he was the perfect crowned head to kill if you wanted to ignite a war. Eastern European history professor Paul Grandvohl will re-open the Archduke’s cold case in Nedim Lončarević’s The Sarajevo Assassination (clip here), which screens during the 2015 Bosnian Herzegovinian Film Festival in New York, proudly celebrating its twelfth anniversary as one of the most welcoming fests in the City.

The way textbooks typically dismiss the Archduke as a historical footnote is problematic in its own right. Even more dubious are the frequent descriptions of the assassin, Gavrilo Princip and his accomplices as Dostoyevskian pan-Slavic revolutionaries. While Grandvohl probably does not collect enough evidence for a court indictment (nearly 101 years after the fact), he makes a strong circumstantial case, suggesting a certain government played an instrumental role planning and financing the attack. Needless to say, it was not Bosnia (where the Archduke was particularly popular).

As a sidebar to the historical inquiry, Lončarević also follows Grandvohl as he researches his own family history in Sarajevo’s traditional Jewish quarter. What he discovers is much more satisfying than the roots of Ben Affleck’s family tree. Through the process, viewers also get a sense Sarajevo was an unusually tolerant and cosmopolitan city, especially by the standards of pre-WWI Europe.

Although Assassination clocks in with a TV-friendly running time just under an hour, it is chocked full of interesting historical background and context. It is particularly eye-opening to see how Princip was venerated as a revolutionary hero under the Communist regime and remains a celebrated figure in Serbia today.

PBS really ought to pick-up Assassination for broadcast in America. Frankly, the murder of the Archduke and his morganatic wife, the much-maligned Sophie, Duchess of Bavaria is something everyone has heard of, but very few really understand to any significant extent. While the film never feels drily academic, Lončarević and Grandvohl shoehorn in a good deal of informative and telling history. Highly recommended for those fascinated by WWI (and the ultimate origins of WWII), The Sarajevo Assassination screens this Saturday (5/23) as part of this year’s Bosnian Herzegovinian Film Festival, which has become an annual tradition both for the expat community and a growing number of cineaste supporters.