Thursday, August 17, 2006

Review: Personal Affairs

"Personal Affairs" is part of tri-part documentary on life in war time Sarajevo titled "Man God Monster."

While "Monster" looks at the chilling war crimes confession of Borislav Herak; and while "God" focuses on Susan Sontag's journey to bring the play "Waiting for Godot" to war torn Bosnia; the "Man" in the title refers to "Personal Affairs." This documentary focuses on several average Bosnians of all ethnicities: Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats who have one ting in common- trying to survive the brutal VRS siege on Sarajevo.

Because I watched this film several years ago, my memory of it is more akin to a snapshot than a camcorder; I don't recall every single detail of this documentary, but the parts I do recall have stayed etched in my mind ever since.
As a result, this review is probably going to be somewhat choppy, and any mistakes made are of course, completely accidental.
But this documentary is so good, that I really wanted to review it; and I hope that you get a chance to watch it as well.

As I said before, the movie focuses on the life of several people of all different backgrounds who are trying to survive in Sarajevo.
There is a young woman and her boyfriend/fiance who is a soldier in the Bosnian Army.
There is a teenage boy who must make the dangerous journey past the snipers to get water for his family.
There is a middle age man who has decided to stay in Sarajevo, he pays for it by losing his leg in a shell attack.
There is also the stories of doctors and nurses who under very difficult conditions, perform triage and operations in order to save lives, if not always limbs.

And then there is the elder brother of the teenage boy. He only speaks a few times in the film, really he is no more than just a background subject, yet out of all of these memorable people, he has stayed with me the most.

In the film we learn that he has a new girlfriend; and that his first wife and young children were brutally killed by Serb soldiers.
When I first saw this documentary all of those years ago; my reaction was a defensive reaction. I didn't want to believe it. Not that I didn't think it didn't happened-I knew too much about Bosnia to believe that it wasn't true. But, I just didn't want to believe it. I didn't want to believe that the man with the blank stare on my TV screen had lost his entire life in such a horrific way.

Yet, of course, it was true. The atrocities out of Bosnia were not the fictitious story of some demented person, nor the lies of journalists; they actually did occur. And watching this man's blank expression on his face, for just a few minutes, brought home to me the effects these atrocities have on their victims, more so than any CIA, State Department, Human Rights Watch document ever did.

As the movie progresses, we learn that the husband of the young woman has been killed.

Yet, for all of the heartbreak and pain in the film; there are also moments of courage. One of the earliest scenes of the film features the same young woman and her husband at a dinner party with friends, singing songs as their city is being shelled. They are trying the best they can to live a normal life in the face of completely abnormal chaos.

And the last scene features the middle aged man, the one without limbs adjusting to his new physical state. It is awkward for him, after all, he has to get used to his new body and the loss of his legs, which I'm sure, just like the rest of us, he has taken for granted. Yet, after struggling for a few seconds, he looks at the camera and gives a sign (I can't remember if it is a peace sign or a thumbs up sign). Perhaps, that could be a symbol of the city itself: horribly wounded and forever altered, yet still surviving.


Yakima_Gulag said...

This is a really good review, I must see this film!

Srebrenica Massacre said...

I haven't watched it. The only Bosnian movies I watched in Canada were "Welcome to Sarajevo" and "No Man's Land". Welcome to Sarajevo was a trully sad true story, and I hated watching it. But, No Man's Land was very funny and well acted movie (fiction). The problem is that only Bosnians can understand Bosnian humor, and non-Bosnians might not really laugh (because due to translation into English, humor is lost). But - it's worth to watch! You will love it, guarantee! The movie also won an Oscar!

Srebrenica Massacre said...
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Bg anon said...

Reminds me of a (short?) Bosnian film I watched recently.

Two old friends who each lost a leg in war fighting for opposite sides. They meet outside Sarajevo on a hillside. One starts to tell a story about how he went to the shop to buy a pair of shoes. (One of those documentary type of films with a dose of humour too).

Near the end as they go their seperate ways they trade shoes. One man lost his left leg, the other his right.

That is real stuff as far as I'm concerned.

I'm not much of a fan of the war movie genre of the 'who started the war' variety. I wrote a bit about this at the Belgrade Blog already.

Shaina said...

Bg, Anon

I've read your post on war movies; you raise some interesting points. I'm torn on so called "war movies." I hope to dedicate a post to the idea of war movies in the near future.