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New Tanovic Film Depicts the “Baggage” BiH Must Overcome

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By Valerie Hopkins In the first few minutes of the movie “Baggage,” premiered on the closing night of Sarajevo Film Festival, the main character Amir, a Bosniak now living in Sweden, is stopped by police as he enters Republika Srpska from Sarajevo. Why, he asks, is the speed limit 40 km on this highway? “Because It’s a populated area,” replied the policeman.

Amir glances at the ruined homes arrayed around him, probably destroyed during the 1992-1995 war, and doesn’t see a habitable house.

The pungent irony is emblematic of Bosnian director Danis Tanovic’s dark humor. In only 25 minutes, the Oscar-winning director captures the daily struggle to move forward, and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s ongoing challenge to identify and bury the 10,000 people who are still missing.

Tanovic says he felt compelled to make the film because it is impossible for people to move forward until they can bury their loved ones.

“These people cannot and do not want to admit the loss, and it is their daily nightmare,” Tanovic told reporters who watched the film in a private press screening on Thursday. He said that closure remains one of the biggest obstacles to reconciliation and trust building.

“Searching for the victims is one of the key problems in Bosnia today for restoring trust,” he stressed. “Without achieving that, we simply cannot start a new era, since the pain of people who do not manage to find their relatives is the most horrible aftermath of the war.” The film, played just before “The Guard,” SFF’s light-hearted closing movie, also reminded spectators partaking in the glitz and glamour of the festival indeed, Angelina Jolie strode down the red carpet moments before the film started that BiH still has problems to overcome.

The film is about Amir, played by the talented Boris Ler. He has a successful life in Sweden but returned to BiH because authorities thought they found the remains of his parents, who were still missing sixteen years after the war that claimed 100,000 lives ended. But the bodies actually belong to someone else, so Amir drives into the village where he was born, now a part of Republika Srpska, one of BiH’s two entities that is predominantly Serb.

While he’s visiting the ruins of his family home, childhood friend Dusan recognizes him. In a chilling scene, Dusan tells him that a man named Miladin can lead him to the bones of his parents.

Tanovic masterfully weaves the metaphor of ‘Baggage,’ throughout the film as a symbol of all who struggle to overcome the past. Each character in the film is saddled with the weight of emotional and psychological baggage. In Amir’s tiny hometown, some Serbs grapple with the knowledge of the grave site, afraid to announce its location for fear of retaliation or punishment, and uncomfortable with acknowledging the atrocities that occurred so close to their homes. Amir has been burdened for sixteen years with the search for closure. All are troubled by a lack of trust. Tanovic said he was inspired to make the film after speaking to people who are still searching for their loved ones. “Actually the story is composed of three real stories that I was told. Horrible as they each are, they just united in my mind to arrive at the one that is being told."

The director also said that although mass graves are often in the news, he wanted to make a film because the medium is more emotional.

Tanovic is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most famous film directors. His debut film “No Man’s Land” won an Oscar for best foreign language film in 2002. The black comedy deals with the absurdity of war by showcasing the relationship between Bosniak and a Serb fighters stuck between enemy lines. The theme is natural for Tanovic, who shot over 300 hours of footage while following the Bosnian Army during the 1992-1995 war.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie and actor Brad Pitt were among attendees at the screening, showing their belief in the importance of restoring trust by finding the missing. Jolie’s directorial debut, “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” about the war, will premiere this fall. Jolie has visited BiH often and has received a lot of attention about her role in the country.

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