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For Those Who Can Tell No Tales: Toronto Review

For Those Who Can Tell No Tales TIFF - H 2013
TIFF

The Bottom Line

An atmospheric exploration of connections between the past and the present that offers no easy answers.

Venue

Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentation)

Director

Jasmila Zbanic

Cast

Kym Vercoe, Boris Isakovic, Simon McBurney, Branko Cvejic, Leon Lucev

The third film from Bosnian director Jasmila Zbanic ("Grbavica") is an adaptation of an autobiographical play by Australian actress Kym Vercoe, who stars as herself.

Bosnian filmmaker Jasmila Zbanic, who immediately hit the jackpot when her first feature, Grbavica, won the Berlinale Golden Bear in 2006, returns to the thorny subject of the ugly fate of many Bosnian women during the war for her third feature, For Those Who Can Tell No Tales.

The Toronto world premiere, unusually short at just over 70 minutes, is an adaptation of a semi-autobiographical play by Australian thespian Kym Vercoe, who also stars as herself. The film recounts Vercoe's backpacking trip to the picturesque Bosnian city of Visegrad, where she unwittingly checked in to a hotel with some very bad karma resulting from wartime atrocities committed there. However, the suggestive feature is neither a supernatural yarn nor a story with easy answers. Instead, it ruminates on how the past connects to the present, and how specific places sometimes can be marked by something truly horrific that occurred there.

Though not an easy sell, the combination of Zbanic's reputation and the subject matter should attract some interest from European distributors especially, while a day-and-date bicoastal and VOD release is not impossible stateside.

In Visegrad, in the Serbian part of Bosnia Herzegovina, spindly, curly haired tourist Kym (Vercoe) finds herself being interrogated by a local police officer (Boris Isakovic) for what he identifies as strange behavior -- she films things with her video camera and takes an interest in the town that goes beyond its famous stone bridge -- and they demand to know who she works for. But as Tales will reveal, Kym is a fiercely independent woman mainly driven by her own instincts and curiosity.

Flashbacks reveal that it's her second visit to Visegrad; the first came about because of her interest in Nobel Prize-winning local author Ivo Andric, whose masterpiece, The Bridge on the Drina, recounts Visegrad's bloody history over almost four centuries. What Vercoe didn't know is that the beautiful 16th century Ottoman bridge was also the site of a bloodbath during the Yugoslav Wars of the mid-'90s and that many Bosniak women were raped and killed on or near the monument.

The gorgeous and supple cinematography -- at times the camera seems to glide over the water -- of Zbanic's regular collaborator, Christine A. Maier, beautifully shows that age-old monuments such as the Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic Bridge are immutable witnesses to time (it's a "symbol of eternity" as one of the characters remarks). But the film also suggests that they can be more active witnesses to history if people allow them to be -- though even today, there's no plaque commemorating what happened on the bridge during the 1990s.

This is also the case for the hotel that Vercoe has chosen to stay at, which was a rape camp for Muslim women during the war, as she discovers when she's back in Australia (the scenes there add little to the narrative). In fact, this is what prompts Vercoe's second trip, since she can't believe such a place would simply have been cleaned up and put into use again.

The screenplay, by the director, Vercoe and Zoran Solomun, could have expanded upon the obvious parallels with Andric's iconic work -- itself written during WWII -- a bit more, though perhaps Zbanic wanted to avoid having to include Andricgrad, the controversial city near Visigrad that's being constructed by double Palme d'Or winner Emir Kusturica (who's aligned with the Serbs though he's a Bosnian Muslim by birth) that's entirely in honor of Andric.

The title is a direct quote from Ivo Andric and could refer to the women that were killed but also to the people that deny the crimes.

Production: Deblokada, Doha Film Institute, The Post Republic
Cast: Kym Vercoe, Boris Isakovic, Simon McBurney, Branko Cvejic, Leon Lucev, Jasna Duricic, Pamela Rabe, Damir Kustura, Sasa Orucevic
Director: Jasmila Zbanic
Screenwriters: Kym Vercoe, Jasmila Zbanic, Zoran Solomun, based on the play Seven Kilometres North-East by Kim Vercoe
Producers: Damir Ibrahimovic, Jasmila Zbanic
Executive producers: Dzemila Arnautovic, Sabine Derflinger, Joslyn Barnes, Cat Villiers
Director of photography: Christine A. Maier
Production designer: Zeljka Buric
Costume designer: Lejla Hodzic
Editor: Yann Dedet
Sales: MPM Film

No rating, 73 minutes