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FNE at Berlinale 2016: Death in Sarajevo

2016-02-16
Death in Sarajevo directed by Danis Tanović Death in Sarajevo directed by Danis Tanović

BERLIN: Oscar winning Bosnian director Danis Tanović, whose An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker screened in Competition at the Berlinale in 2013, is back with his timely political parable, Death In Sarajevo, a tale that asks if we can ever really escape from our own history.

Tanović story is set in the fictional Hotel Europa in Sarajevo on 28 June 2014 on the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by Serbian nationalist Gavrile Princip the act that is generally credited for sparking WWI.

Tanović’s script is inspired by rather than based on French intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy’s play Hotel Europe, and indeed the dialogue and concept is only loosely based on the original play.

Tanović takes us through the hotel and its characters from top to bottom from the laundries in its cellars to the media presence on its roof terrace. Hotel Europe immediately seems to suggest our own European house with its different social levels, conflicts and absurdities.

It has been decided to mark the centenary of the assassination with an EU diplomatic delegation of VIPs which is supposed to be the best hotel in Sarajevo.  Naturally Omer the hotel’s manager played by Izudin Bajrovic is anxious to see that the hotel puts it best foot forward.

But the timing is not good.  The staff at the hotel have not been paid for months and are preparing to walk out on strike. Increasingly desperate Omer decides to have Enco played by Aleksandar Seksan who is a gangster who runs a strip club in the hotel cellar to halt the industrial action by beating up the labour leader.

Meanwhile the careerist hotel receptionist and assistant manager Lamija played by Snezana Vidovic who is part of the young, upwardly mobile generation that is keen to get on, sees the attack on the labour leader but decides to say nothing. Hatidza a worker from the hotel laundry played by Faketa Salihbegovic-Avdagic who is also Lamija’s mother is elected labour leader of the strike and Lamija faces a difficult dilemma.

Meanwhile on the roof of the hotel a TV journalist Vedrana played by Vedrana Seksan is doing interviews for a show about the anniversary of the assassination.  She speaks to various experts about the significance of the history of WWI and we wonder if we have actually learned anything from it as she manages to find and interview a descendant of Princip who is also a present day Serbian nationalist played by Muhamed Hadzovic who believes his ancestor is a hero not a terrorist.

One of the most telling points in the film is when she asks who would Princip choose to assassinate today and would anyone really even care? Can we ever really escape the cycle of hope, violence and death?

In the midst of this mayhem the oblivious EU diplomat played by French actor Jacque Weber rehearses his speech for the centenary event in his penthouse suite unaware of the chaos in the hotel beneath him.

The ensemble cast of characters turns in great performances in this absurd world that is both dream and nightmare as the story builds to its strange twist of an ending.

Tanović asks the really big questions but does not give us any answers.  But then maybe there are not really any answers to the really big questions.

Death in Sarajevo / Smrt u Sarajevu (France, Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Directed by Danis Tanović
Cast: Jacques Weber, Snežana Vidović, Izudin Bajrović, Vedrana Seksan, Muhamed Hadžović
Produced by France's Margo Films and CCA/pro.ba from Bosnia and Herzegovina in coproduction with France 3 Cinema
Sales: The Match Factory www.matchfactory.de

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