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In Sarajevo, shots that rang out a century ago can still be heard today. One Day in Sarajevo is a multi-viewpoint documentary filmed on June 28, 2014, the 100th anniversary of the assassination of the Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand by the Bosnian Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip. A amateurish anti-colonial protest which only succeeded by fateful accident of circumstance, Princip’s small act of local political violence had global consequences, leading inexorably to the all-consuming tragedy of the First World War. The director is local heroine Jasmila Žbani?, best known for her 2006 debut feature Grbavica, a Golden Bear winner in Berlin.
One Day in Sarajevo is a collaborative project, Žbani? blending her own reportage with crowd-sourced footage shot on smartphones and non-professional cameras by tourists and locals, plus clips from three different feature films dramatizing the Archduke’s assassination. The result is a playful, freewheeling cine-essay about a seismic historical event, its lasting consequences and its hotly disputed political legacy. Premiered in the official documentary section at Sarajevo Film Festival last week, this Bosnian-Austrian co-production feels too short and slight for theatrical release, but its evergreen subject and the director’s track record should lead to a modest afterlife in festivals, TV slots and high-school history lessons.
A stylistic patchwork, One Day in Sarajevo zigzags between multi-lingual vox pops and brief character sketches. A refugee from the Balkan wars returns home to show the city to his Montreal-born daughters. A well-meaning Austrian tourist gets lost in translation with her Bosnian Muslim taxi driver. Disgruntled locals flip the bird at ugly new building projects. Conspiracy theorists rant on street corners. As part of the official centenary celebrations, the city hosts a day of public musical and theatrical performances. Žbani? incorporates some rousing Balkan folk music and footage of schoolchildren playing soldiers with unforms and rifles, an innocent tableau with sinister overtones.
One of the film’s recurring subjects is a performance artist who re-enacts the assassination on the very street corner where it happened, this time firing a child’s water pistol at passing cars before begging the drivers for pocket change. Crowd reactions range from laughter to outrage. For ethnic Serbs, Princip remains an evergreen hero of resistance against imperialism, and the film shows a tearful gathering at his graveside. For others, he was a proto-fascist and political ancestor of the brutal Serbian nationalists who laid siege to Sarajevo during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
Žbani? curates a collage of fleeting impressions, some trivial, some telling. But she sporadically touches on more weighty material, including a look inside the museum that Franz Ferdinand was scheduled to open on the day of his assassination. State funding for the museum dried up in 2012, yet a committed skeleton staff still go to work to guard against looting and disrepair. Later, attending a gala evening concert by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra that cost the city two million Euros, she interviews a youthful protest group wearing Gavrilo Princip masks and Bob Dylan T-shirts who argue that Bosnia has been “occupied again… by capitalism.”
One Day in Sarajevo is an engaging stroll through a city where the scars of history are as obvious as the bullet-holes which still pockmark many of the major buildings. A more disciplined documentary would have spent more time probing these psychic wounds, illuminating the competing versions of history that still divide the Balkans after suffering for centuries under a succession of imperial superpowers. But that would require a different film entirely. Žbani? sticks within her brief, delivering a bittersweet collective love letter to her hometown that is light on context but never short on charm.
Production company: Deblokada
Director, screenwriter: Jasmila Žbani?
Cinematographer: Christine A. Maier
Editors: Isabel Meier, Ruth Schoenegge
Producers: Damir Ibrahimovi?, Jasmila Žbani?
Sales company: Deblokada, Sarajevo
No rating, 60 minutes
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Warner Bros. Discovery