Dir: Jasmila Zbanic. Aus-Ger-Bosna-Herz-Cro. 2006. 90mins.
The recent past looms dark and fearsome over Jasmila Zbanic’s debut feature Grbavica, set in a suburb which witnessed some of the worst massacres of the 1990s Balkan war.
Whatever its weaknesses, this coming-of-age story about a teenager and her relationship with her single mother succeeds in revealing the wounds barely healed by several years of relative peace.
Mirjana Karanovic, behind some of the best pictures from the region during the last 20 years, is splendid as the parent desperately trying to protect her daughter from the past.
As the child, Luna Mijovic, is a fresh and energetic new face who should go far. So should the film, whose festival career may be delayed by its prior commitments to Sarajevo and Thessaloniki (both helped finance) - but that should not hinder sales.
Seamstress by day and waitress by night, Esma (Karanovic) is trying to support Sara (Mijovic), with who she has a good relationship despite the absence of a father.
When her class is about to go on a trip, Sara is told that children of dead war heroes can go for free but that others have to pay full rate.
Sara expects her mother to produce a document proving dad died for his country, as she had been told. Esma meanwhile desperately looks for a loan to pay for the excursion - since there is no document to produce.
As the story reaches its climax, so Esma has to confess a terrible truth.
The plot may be thin, with a soft belly in the middle, but Zbanic compensates with a strong gallery of secondary characters, all trying to forget the past and getback to normal life.
Group therapy is one solution but even the most innocent everyday occurences or encounters remind them of something terrible.
Sensitively shot, the camera moves with ease from brightness to gloom, with a soundtrack juxtaposing plaintive litanies to deafening techno beats.