Children of Sarajevo: Cannes Review

A Bosnian-Herzegovinian filmmaker continues her chronicle of the post-war years.

Aida Begic's film tells the story of two orphaned siblings struggling to survive during the Bosnian War.

A microcosm of the fathomless suffering that remains more than 16 years since the siege of Sarajevo ended, writer-director Aida Begic’s follow-up to her 2008 Cannes Critics’ Week Grand Prize-winning debut Snow tells the story of two orphaned siblings struggling in a transitional society where only the fittest survive.

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Necessarily sober and quietly challenging, the Un Certain Regard entry shows a filmmaker whose passion for her subject has now twinned with a maturing proficiency to deliver a drama of some power.

Already scooped up to open the 18th Sarajevo International Film Festival in July, the Bosnian/German/French/Turkish co-production, which is interlaced with real people’s video footage of their lives during the war that convulsed the Balkans, should play well on the international festival circuit.

Anchoring the unfurling drama is a compelling central performance from dark-eyed Marija Pikic as Rahima, a 23-year-old restaurant worker living in battle-scarred Sarajevo. Her demeanour is hushed and contained, yet a smart mouth and occasional detonations of bitterness hint at buried anguish.

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After what we are led to understand were some earlier years on the wrong side of the law, she has found sanctuary in the teachings of Islam and hopes the mantle of her religion can also shield her brother Nedim (Ismir Gagula), a typically wilful and self-centred 14-year-old, from the harshness of existence in a post-war culture where corruption and violence flourish.

He is, incidentally, a diabetic and the stress of keeping him safe and of convincing the orphanage that she is a competent guardian, is palpable.
When the monosyllabic Nedim gets into a fight with the son of a crooked local official and breaks the boy’s expensive cell phone, finding a way to replace it is only the beginning of Rahima’s problems as she discovers her little brother is in even deeper trouble than she’d feared.

Begic follows the unsmiling young woman around with a hand-held camera, shooting over her shoulder as she passes through a very noisy milieu – there is an attendant soundscape of clattering pans, creaking water pipes, hammering and drilling and blasting – all without flinching. Cinematography is hard and cold, highlighting the ruthlessness of a society where life is survival.  

Cast: Marija Pikic, Ismir Gagula
Production companies: Filmhouse Sarajevo, Rohfilm, Les Films De L’Apres Midi, Kaplan Films
Writer/director: Aida Begic
Producer: Aida Begic
Executive producer: Adis Djapo
Director of photography: Erol Zubcevic
Production designer: Sanda Popovac
Costume designer: Sanja Dzeba
Editor: Miralem Zubcevic
Sales: Pyramide International, Paris
No rating, 90 minutes