Grbavica: Land of My Dreams (2006)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5

Original Title:  Grbavica

Alternate Title:  Esma’s Secret

Bosnia and Herzegovina/Croatia/Austria/Germany, 2006. , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Screenplay by Jasmila Zbanic. Cinematography by . Produced by , , . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

Sarajevo at the beginning of the twenty-first century still bears the marks of the conflict of the preceding decade, which is definitely the case for Esma, a seamstress who lives with her daughter Sara in their apartment years after both her husband and father were killed in the Bosnian War. Esma lives to make sure Sara has everything she could possibly want, including her being able to go on an expensive field trip with her school, whose fees are due soon and she needs to find the money or else her daughter will miss out on the opportunity.

Esma asks whatever friend or relative she comes across to help out but they’re strapped and can’t do it, so she takes a job at a seedy nightclub for extra money, working all night to the wee hours while Sara is looked after by her mother’s friend Sabina. The school’s policy is that anyone whose father was a “shaheed”, or martyr, in the war, gets a significant discount on the trip fees, but Esma tells Sara that she can’t find the certificate proving this, and that the situation is complicated by her late husband’s body never having been recovered. As the days pass and Sara’s obsession with finding this paperwork gets more intense, it becomes clear, to us and in an instinctive way to her daughter, that Esma is hiding a traumatic secret about the past that she is trying to erase by making her daughter’s life as free from conflict as possible.

The result is a great deal of stress in the younger woman that comes out as bratty behaviour, while Esma risks putting herself in a dangerously compromised position with the people she meets at the bar. One of them, a driver for the club’s shady owner named Pelda, himself the son of a shaheed, continues to look for his father whenever another mass grave is found and unearthed, and makes a connection with Esma that could turn romantic if it weren’t for the vast battle fatigue that they are both suffering from.

A few of the plot strands are left to fizzle out feebly in Jasmila Zbanic’s potent screenplay, there’s more time spent on Pelda’s dark dealings at the club than there needs to be, and Sara’s developing romance with a boy from school doesn’t quite land, while the scenes that take place at a community centre where female survivors of genocide speak about their experiences could well be expanded upon. For that matter, Esma’s secret is easy to predict quite early on, but the central performance by as Esma and the superb support by as Sabina is powerful enough to knock everything else exactly in place, as Zbanic captures the lasting ripple effects of war so effectively without ever indulging in a violent flashback or preachy moralizing.

European Film Award Nominations: Best European Film; Best European Actress (Mirjana Karanovic)

Berlin Film Festival Award: Golden Bear

Toronto International Film Festival: 2006

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