Published Dec 01, 2001"No Man's Land" is the latest in the tradition of dark war satires such as "How I Won the War," "Dr. Strangelove," "Catch-22" and "M*A*S*H." War is hell and as such we should laugh at the horrific absurdities that the rich and old send the poor and young to fulfill for them. Director Danis Tanovic ably showcases the 1993 Bosnia-Herzegovina war as a means to bring this idea across.
Three soldiers, two Bosnian, one Serb, find themselves stuck in the same trench in the middle of no man's land - the mined yardage of field between two enemy front lines. This concept is manifested in the trench itself - two enemies and one mined area. You see, one of the Bosnians is a live booby trap around whom the tension builds. He cannot move and neither of the enemies can do what he wants without instant death. This gridlock continues till the UN arrives, followed by the media, followed by the UN commanding officer.
Tanovic has delivered a tense, darkly comedic film that contemporary Hollywood would not know what to do with. There is thankfully precious little American presence in this picture, reminding us that that regime isn't the only hawk or dove in the European theatre. The reporters are British, the UN peacekeepers are French, the bomb defuser German, and the commanding officer British. The obvious stereotypes are kept to a minimum, but everything is inherent.
One of the director's clever tactics is the growing sense of frustration we are made to feel throughout. Hollywood has cast a template for war pictures that we are often led to believe is the rule. We are all human in the end and in the face of mutual adversity, we will forgive our enemies. But Tanovic tears this structure asunder. Just when we think tensions will ease, the hatred that breeds war raises its ugly head. This is a good balance to the dark humour. Laugh all you want, people still die in war.
The acting is strong, as is the writing. While some nuance may be lost in the translation, there are wonderful throwaway lines that contribute to this well crafted film. It's all in the details, so pay attention to the subtitles. The camera work is also quite good as seen with the initial battle scene and the incredibly proper closer.
"No Man's Land," like its predecessors, is funny in its universality, but sad in its truth.