For Those That Can Tell No Tales: Bosnian film director finally wrestles away Visegrad from Emir Kustrica

The Old bridge in Visegrad ( Na Drini Cuprija)
The Old bridge ( Na Drini Cuprija)

This article was originally published: 21-11-2013 in the Croatian Daily, Jutarnji List.

By Nenad Polimac

In Jasmila Zbanic film “Na Putu” ( On The Path) there is an excellent scene in which the heroine of the story ( Zrinka Cvitešić) gets drunk and decides to head to Republika Srpska with her friend ( Nina Violić) to visit her childhood home. The home is now occupied by others, once there the couple is surprised by a curious young girl who wants to know what the two women are doing. If an older person had appeared before them, the heroine of the story (Cvitešić) would have probably tried to might light of the moment by joking, but in the presence of the young girl that most likely had no idea that another family had lived in the house where her family now lives did not seem appropriate. The scene is full of emotional powerlessness and is one of the most suggestive examples in Bosnian postwar cinema of the consequences of the Bosnian War.

There are no such scenes in Zbanic new film; For Those That Can Tell No Tales, not because it´s somehow a lesser film, but because the film serves different purpose, and tells a completely different tale. For Those That Can Tell No Tales does not tell a straightforward story, in fact it´s much closer to a conceptual art piece than a movie.

In case you happened to see Zbanic ´s documentary “Slike s ugla” from 2006 ( Images from a Corner ) a documentary that received a prize at ZagrebDox then you`ll understand what I mean. In that piece Zbanic tried to find out what had happened to a close friend of her´s that was wounded on a corner in Sarajevo in 1992. And why a French photographer that was on the scene did not try and help her, instead of just photographing the incident, in all the photographer spent three rolls of film shooting Zbanic´s wounded friend.

As the documentary rolls on, we don´t actually get to know much about the girl on the corner, we don´t even get to see the French photographer, however in on moment we hear her voice, in that one moment, that one associative set in which we also get to hear the name Srebrenica a since of terrible discomfort arises, a discomfort that stays with you. The most important thing is not to fulfil the original objective, but to focus on something real, like the horrors of the Bosnian War and to find a place for them in the characters everyday life. If you accomplish that then, you have done a whale of a job.

That´s exactly the kind of film For Those That Can Tell No Tales is, Zbanic had in November 2011 in Sarajevo seen a play by Australian actress and performer Kym Vercoe called; “Seven Kilometers North East” in which Vercoe had summarized her experience from her trip to the eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad. She came to Visegrad because of the book “Na Drini ćuprija” ( Brigde on The River Drina ) by Ivo Andric.

In Visegrad she found accommodation at the hotel and spa resort called Vilna Vlas, she was overwhelmed by the old bridge build in the 16th century during the Ottoman Rule. It wasn’t until she returned to Australia that she found out that the bridge was a scene of serial butchery and rape back in the spring and summer of 1992, and that the idyllic hotel and spa, Vilna Vlas was used by Serb soldiers and paramilitaries for raping Bosniak (Muslim) women, 200 in total were raped there. While in Visegrad, Vercoe had no idea what had happened in the town, nobody told her anything. Given the fact that there is no memorial to the victims in Visegrad, only to those that did the killing and the raping, Vercoe set out to make a play that would serve as a memorial to and a reminder of the victims of something that cannot, be forgotten.

Zbanic came to Vercoe with the idea of making Vercoe´s trip to Bosnia into a film, and that was the inception of: For Those That Can Tell No Tales. It´s not a tale of fiction but of re-construction. The film has a relaxed and easygoing tone while Vercoe is in Sarajevo, while the since of menace and discomfort grows upon Vercoe´s arrival in Visegrad especially after she finds out what happened in the town. There are no grand gestures, it´s all toned down, there are no flashbacks to the horrors of the war, still Zbanic does not leave out any of the horrific details. Aside from Vercoe´s play the film also serves as a form of memorial to the victims, a memorial that they are not allowed to have in Visgerad.

Emir Kusturica has tried to maintain the romantic feel of the bridge captured in Andric´s novel in his own Kamengrad (Andricgrad) However anyone who watches Zbanic´s film will know that what is going on is an attempt at covering up war crimes. The Bosnian director has in a way taken Visegrad back from Kusturica, and in that alone accomplished something big.

Kym Vercoe in:  For Those That Can Tell No Tales.
Kym Vercoe in: For Those That Can Tell No Tales.

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