[Metroactive Movies]

[ Movies Index | Metro | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

Future City

[whitespace] Welcome to Sarajevo
Laurie Sparham

Witness to War: Stephen Dillane plays a deadened reporter in Michael Winterbottom's new drama about the war in the former Yugoslavia.

'Welcome to Sarajevo' doesn't beg for tears or pity

By Richard von Busack

IN MICHAEL WINTER WINTERBOTTOM'S Welcome to Sarajevo, several war correspondents cover the spectacle of a city's murder. The unemotional reporter Michael Henderson (Stephen Dillane) finds himself personally involved in the tragedy when he schemes to smuggle some orphans out of the encircled city, defying the Serbian Chetniks and the U.N. He brings one girl, Emira (Emira Nusevic), home to his family. Unfortunately, Emira is not actually an orphan, and her mother, stranded in the besieged city, wants her back.

The Sarajevo siege of 1992 is drawn for us in the opening titles, which contrast the Winter Olympics footage of the beautiful city as it was with the ruins it is in now. In episodes, we take in the landscape: a sniper shooting up a wedding party; the snuffing of a man in the privacy of his bedroom by a stray bullet; a Sarajevan under bombardment yelling at the mortar operators he can't even see, "Fuck you! Assholes! Get a job!" There's room for bleak comedy in these sketches, too: a local promoter in a gas-generator-powered nightclub holds a "Miss Besieged Sarajevo" contest.

Welcome to Sarajevo also contrasts two reporters exhibiting different types of bravery. Henderson is so reserved a Brit that he reminds you that in his sort of England, even the Beatles were foreigners. His colleague, Flynn (Woody Harrelson), a hard-drinking, impetuous reporter, isn't made more mature by Henderson's example. Flynn's casual bravery--naturally, it looks like showiness to Henderson--seems less like a sop to the action-loving Yank audience and more like leavening of the tragedy. Harrelson is really improving; he's learning to hold his coarseness and raucousness in reserve so it doesn't spill out. Maybe the fact that Harrelson is from Southern California helps him keep his balance; in one of the film's best lines, it's suggested that, as bad as Sarajevo is, at least it's not L.A.

What a logistical nightmare this movie must have been! It's a tragic story, and part of the tragedy is that the West and the U.N. dithered while Sarajevo was butchered. Winterbottom previously made two fatally glum films, Butterfly Kiss and Jude. Welcome to Sarajevo is his least depressing, most gripping work ever. Winterbottom isn't out to exploit the tragedy; the sexual violence in Bosnia, for example, doesn't figure in his story. Welcome to Sarajevo takes place in that unnamable state, beyond mourning and anger, in which you can study the suffering people will inflict upon each other in the name of their religion or their fatherland. The movie doesn't beg for pity or tears. Watching it is less like seeing history than things to come. It may be heartless to say this, but Welcome to Sarajevo has some of the rousing qualities of science fiction. Sarajevo, like L.A. before it, may be the city of the future.

Welcome to Sarajevo (R; 101 min.), directed by Michael Winterbottom, written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, photographed by Daf Hobson and starring Stephen Dillane and Woody Harrelson.

[ San Jose | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

From the January 8-14, 1998 issue of Metro.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.