No Man's Land
R3 - Hong Kong - Winsom Entertainment Distribution LTD.
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (9th May 2006).
The Film

The Yugoslav Wars was devastating to the area, taking place roughly over a decade from 1991, it was a conflict that affected the six former Yugoslav Republics. These conflicts over ethnic, political and cultural differences erupted into full scale war between the Serbians and Croatians. This war would be the most catastrophic and bloodiest fought in Europe since World War II, and as World War II, the Yugoslav War was also genocidal in nature claiming around 120,000-130,000 murdered and leaving millions stranded and homeless. This is nothing compared to the scale of the holocaust, however the loss of life is significantly large enough to warrant the title ‘genocidal’. The war ended with much of the former Yugoslavia in ruins, poverty was widespread creating a phenomenally complicated humanitarian crisis, economic depression set into what was already an instable territory. Today the territories enjoy peace and have rebuilt, but the scars of the conflict remain, physically in the landscape and also mentally among the many soldiers that fought in the conflict and the innocents that survived it. 2001 Marked the end of conflict, this was also the year in which, Bosnian filmmaker Danis Tanovic released No Man’s Land a film that with just a few characters and one major location manages to outline the problems and tensions faced by the people during wartime Yugoslavia and also manages to point the finger at the hopelessly ineffectiveness of the Peacekeeping Force sent to the area by the United Nations and how certain powers manipulate the media to serve their own needs. Tanovic paints a scolding portrait of the frustration felt by many people during this troubling time in the former Yugoslavia’s history, utilizing dramatic elements, comedy and some graphic violence to get his message across. He manages to balance these elements like an intricate juggling act while always staying focused on the overall themes of the film.
No Man’s Land is set in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1993 during the height of the conflict, Ciki’s men are slaughtered in an attack and he finds himself wounded and seeking refuge in a disused trench in the no man’s land between the Serbian and Croatian lines. When Nino and a fellow soldier are sent to check the trench for any survivors, Nino finds himself trapped with Ciki. They could leave if it wasn’t for a wounded man lying on a land mine placed there by Nino’s fellow solider who met his end when Ciki shot him. The two men must wait it out until help arrives to save the man on the mine. During this time the balance of power between these men shifts according to who has the gun and their intolerance for each other is let out into the open. The United Nations and the world media soon gets wind of the situation and try to provider assistance, however these men are beyond help.
Tanovic does a brilliant job in balancing the inherent absurdity of conflict with subtly comedic moments between these two men, off set by the brutality and violence of war makes for an interesting film. The characters all present their side of the struggle but it all appears hopeless, a sentiment shared by people during this troubled time in the area’s history and comes across crystal clear in the film’s razor-edge screenplay. Despite their obvious hatred for one another these men are forced to deal with each other’s company which makes for compelling viewing. The performances are equally impressive each actor displaying a range relegated to the top 1% of actors, and deliver their lines with a ‘naturalistic approach that adds to the overall realism of the film.
This realism is complimented with the stunning photography by Walther van den Ende which is sadly mistreated on this DVD release (see video below for more on that). The music goes further to elevate the scenes and provides an ambiance that strengthens the film’s themes, Tanovic knows his material extremely well and uses these tools appropriately to tell his story.
No Man’s Land deservedly won the ‘Best Foreign Film’ Oscar at the 2001 ceremony and remains as powerful now as it did upon first screening, for many viewers this conflict may have not registered on their radars, this film sheds light on it as well as sending a deep anti-war message that should resonate in all of us. No Man’s Land comes highly recommended as a brilliant piece of cinema.

Video

Presented in the film’s original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 this anamorphic widescreen image is not the best and certainly deserves a much better treatment. Considering this film has been mastered on a DVD-5, this presents the film with a low bit-rate and not showing off this film’s photography to its maximum potential. The overall image is a little soft, sharpness is not consistent especially in close up shots were finite detail should be seen. The colors I found to be natural yet a little muted, if you check out the French DVD release you’ll notice that the transfer of that edition was supervised by the film’s cinematographer and you can see that the colors are intended to be much deeper with a brown tinting. This is not the case with this release from Winson, it’s almost an identical port of the Region 1 US release, the key word here is almost, because this one appears to have more in the way of compression artefacts. Blacks are as a result muddy and shadow detail is hard to make out at times, especially in the film’s opening sequence. Aside from the instances of compression artefacts, I could not spot any major cosmetic imperfections with the print in the form of scratches or dirt so on that front it’s fine.

Audio

The film includes three major languages spoken on screen they are in Serbo-Croatian, English and French this multilingual soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and is the only track on this disc. While dialogue is clear and distortion free for a 5.1 sound track I found it generally lacking in any depth and scope. Perhaps the allocation of space on a DVD-5 disc has something to do with this. The directional surrounds are subtle yet appear distant, tanks and heavy machinery hold a presence in this track that is unmistakable and the music is rendered well throughout the entire sound space however I never truly felt immersed in this soundtrack, I was never lost in the film from a sound perspective. Being a war film it would have benefited it greatly had a full bit-rate DTS track been included for this release, as far as a budget release (this release can be picked up for around $6.95 USD) goes this track will simply have to do.
The film features optional subtitles in Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese and also in English. I viewed the film with its English subtitles and found to be quite good, I could not spot any major spelling errors however there were a couple of grammatical mistakes. The subtitles are white and are easy to read as they are presented in black of the widescreen bars, they don’t flash by quickly and can easily be read without having to rewind or pause the film. The only problem I had was that even the English speaking parts of the film were also subtitled.

Extras

First up we have a collection of ‘who is who’ profiles for 7 of the following key cast and crew members:
- Writer/director Danis Tanovic (1 page of text information)
- Branko Djuric (1 page of text information)
- Filip Sovagovic (1 page of text information)
- Katrin Cartlidge (1 page of text information)
- Rene Bitorajac (1 page of text information)
- Georges Siatidis (1 page of text information)
- Simon Callow (1 page of text information)

The information is presented in either English or Mandarin, and are basically brief bios of each of the featured people.

Rounding out the extras is the film’s original theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 14 seconds.

Overall

The Film: A+ Video: C+ Audio: C+ Extras: E Overall: C+

 


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