Dir: Aida Begic. Bosnia and Herzegovina-Germany-France. 2008. 99mins.
A fictionalized account of the plight of Muslim women in a mountain village two years after the 1995 Dayton Accords ended the ethnic cleansing of Muslims (and Croats) by their Bosnian Serb neighbours, Snow is a step up from director Aida Begic’s experimental 2001 film First Death Experience. Unobtrusively directed, this ensemble film successfully captures the special camaraderie among the survivors of such horror and the emotional and psychological toll it takes on the individuals.
Although a nightmare such as the Bosnian genocide might appear to have no commercial potential and critical appeal, two films about the war - Jasmila Zbanic’s Golden Bear winning Grbavica and Danis Tanovic’s Oscar-winner No Man’s Land - have won plaudits. That they both received distribution in the UK and the US indicates some willingness by audiences to engage with what many consider depressing subject matter. It is not impossible that Snow could find some small niche market.
With almost all of the community’s males killed during the war (the only remaining men are an old religious man and an emotionally stunted little boy), the women must live and work together in order to survive and, together, deal with fathomless grief. They do not even have the luxury of closure: the location of the remains of their fathers, sons and husbands is a mystery.
Most of the film’s action takes place over one week. Begic highlights the news monotony of the women’s lives by amping up domestic activities through rapid montage, a ploy that feels more calculated than intuitive. The drama suddenly picks up when men re-enter their lives. That Begic and co-writer Elma Tataratic concentrate on their varied reactions - there is strong generational conflict - is a brilliant idea.
One is a virile young man who elicits desire from some of the women, especially the most central character, Alma (Marjanovic), in spite of their consciences. Another is a Serb, a former neighbour who arrives as if on an empathetic mission, but in fact represents a European company that wants to capitalize on the town’s misfortune and buy the land their families have lived on for generation; he also knows where the bodies are buried. The third is the businessman himself, an amoral opportunist who couldn’t care less about what they have gone through.
Some of the woman do want to sell; they do not know how they will be able to continue (the title refers to the harsh Bosnian winter). Others are too emotionally attached not only to the locale but to their personal memories to consider the proposition - especially since they so strongly feel the need to know where to find the dead.
Ultimately the women, resourceful in spite of their ordeal, outsmart the male interlopers. Unlike the conventional Hollywood film, its optimistic note is earned.
Les Films de l’Apres-Midi
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Miralem S Zubcevic
Jasna Ornela Bery