Moving film on Bosnian war rapes stirs Berlin festival
by Erik Kirschbaum, Berlin
A moving drama about Bosnia's post-war trauma and the lingering impact of the systematic rape of Bosnian women by Serb soldiers won cheers at its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival on Sunday. Grbavica spotlights a hushed-up topic of mass rapes in Bosnia during the siege of Sarajevo with a tear-jerking story of a Muslim woman who tries to hide the grisly truth of the past to protect her daughter.
The film, seen by critics as one of the Berlinale's best so far, is told against the backdrop of Sarajevo's struggle to come to terms with the legacy of the 1992-95 war and deftly touches on the myriad problems now haunting the multi-cultural city. ‘We wanted to give a voice to these people and reflect on something that actually exists in Bosnia,’ said director Jasmila Zbanić, a native of Sarajevo, which has turned into a cinematic hotbed since Danis Tanović's Academy Award in 2002.
‘Rape was a war strategy to humiliate these women,’ added Zbanić, 30, at a news conference in Berlin. ‘They were kept in concentration camps until abortions were no longer possible. ‘There are very many such children. No one has kept track of exactly how many. Many are orphans or were given away for adoption. The official number of women raped is 20,000 but the real number is probably much higher, maybe 50,000.’
Named after a suburb of Sarajevo, the film's title Grbavica also has a second meaning: ‘woman with a hump’, which symbolically refers to the raped women. Zbanić spent months listening to women who were raped as well as their therapists. ‘War heroes and families of soldiers killed are supported by the state in Bosnia,’ Zbanić said. ‘Raped women are not. I would hope this film might change the situation. People who have seen it were crying. I hope they will feel better after seeing it.’
A Bosnian Muslim woman named Esma, played by Serbian actress Mirjana Karanović, is struggling to make ends meet as a waitress and always told her daughter her father was killed in the war. Her daughter wants to go on a costly class trip and can get a discount if she has proof of what her mother has told her - but that is something Esma is reluctant to provide.
Tensions between the two grow in their small flat in Grbavica amid the social and economic turmoil surrounding them. ‘This is a film that affects us all, not only in Bosnia but also in Serbia, where I am from,’ said Karanović. ‘It's meant mainly for the people there, but I hope the way we try to come to terms with these terrible truths can interest people far away.’
The warm applause after the packed screening was followed by a thunderous round of cheers at the news conference. Many local critics called it an early front runner for the festival's Golden or Silver Bear awards. ‘I met many children whose mothers were raped or who don't have mothers because they were abandoned by their mothers,’ said Luna Mijović, who plays Esma's daughter. ‘I felt their pain. They feel no one cares about them. They really need love.’
Reuters report on the premiere of the B-H film Grbavica at the Berlin Film Festival, at which it subsequently won the Golden Bear for best film, 12 February 2006; additional reporting by Daria Sito-Sučić in Sarajevo).