'Among Wolves': Film Review

A gentle look at recovery from violence.
2/8/2019

Shawn Convey's doc profiles a Bosnian biker club whose mission is surprisingly civic-minded.

Those seeking examples of positive masculinity in the world would not, chances are, look to a biker club made up of Bosnian war veterans. Or to a town like Livno, whose economic distress makes it the sort of environment we expect to bring out the worst in groups of people, if not in individuals. But this is the picture painted by Among Wolves, a gracefully photographed first film by Shawn Convey, whose subjects have found unlikely ways to heal in the shadow of wartime. The unshowy but welcome documentary, after a well-received festival run, will take a short victory lap theatrically before its impending video release.

Branco “Lija” Lijovic, who sometimes looks like a Balkan Shea Whigham, was a leader in the paramilitary groups that defended Livno during the war of the early 1990s. Now he is president of the Wolves Moto Club, which looks from afar like any gang of exhaust-belching toughs you might meet at Altamont. But beneath their black leather and club patches, the group (as shown here, anyway) is well-behaved: Early on in the doc, we sit in on a meeting in which Lija scolds some members, by name, for riding through town in too uproarious fashion.

What can he do — they're youngsters. More than once, Lija reflects on the differences between his generation and younger ones, which "are not even similar to us." In general, young people are fleeing the area, which has no factories and is seeing regular school closures. As we see during a something-for-everybody bike rally/festival, townfolk appreciate the excitement the Moto Club brings to the area.

But excitement isn't what Lija and many of his cohort are after. The president claims that without the group's charitable focus, he'd see no reason to participate. We watch them stage a blood drive and help distribute donated medical gear; at a small school, they do heavy electrical work for nuns who praise their feel for communal values.

More than anything, we watch them with horses. The Wolves have taken responsibility for a wild herd that roams what used to be the war's front lines — mine fields and areas that these men remember well. For some time after the war, Lija says, he preferred being in these hills to being in town: Here, nobody expected him to talk about anything.

The doc mostly addresses trauma and healing from afar, referring to combat experience without dwelling on it, never saying much about what difficulties men then faced in peacetime. Lija does note that the charitable work his comrades do is not any kind of atonement; he doesn't feel guilty for protecting his village. But being responsible for fixing things and helping the poor is clearly doing something for his soul. As we spend long scenes watching the horses play and graze with him, some of that psychic soothing may rub off on the viewer, as well.

Production company: Mark of Man
Director: Shawn Convey
Screenwriter: Kevin Ripp
Producers: Shawn Convey, Gregor Streiber
Executive producer: Kevin Ripp
Directors of photography: Shawn Convey, Martin Langner
Editor: Katharina Fiedler
Composers: Joshua Convey, Skooby Laposky

In Croatian
91 minutes