As If I Am Not There (2010)
Director: Juanita Wilson
Runtime: 105 min
Few films this year—if not this decade—will challenge you like As If I Am Not There. The film is based on real horrific events that happened during the Bosnian War of the early 1990s. The film is based on real life experiences that were told during the International Criminal Tribunal at The Hague and as told in Slavenka Drakulic’s book that covered the war crimes hearings after the war.
Samira (Natasha Petrovic) is a teacher in Sarajevo who gets a teaching contract in a remote village where the previous teacher has gone mysteriously missing. The village is a far cry from the modern city she is used to and the villagers are suspicious of anyone new. There is nearby civil war fighting going on but Samira doesn’t feel she has anything to worry about because she isn’t from the area.
Soon the village is overtaken by Serbian soldiers, and the villagers are separated into two groups of women/children and men. The men are immediately shot and the women and children are taken by bus to a make-shift prison camp on a farm. There the older women are used for laborers and the young, attractive and even a few children are used for ongoing rapes by the soldiers. This isn’t a one time event. The women are locked in a room where they are beaten and raped on daily basis. Even though Samira pleads that she isn’t one of the villagers, she is ignored and becomes one of the ongoing rape victims. The small band of women fight to survive the ordeal both physically and emotionally.
Natasha Petrovic bravely plays the difficult lead role of Samira. Usually casting a woman so beautiful for the role would have been unrealistic, but her natural beauty actually would have made her a bigger target to the soldiers. Her performance is played for a large part of the film in silence, but she manages to perfectly to convey what she is thinking throughout film just by the look in her eyes.
The film deals with this harsh and brutal world realistically and still keeps its artistic integrity completely. Not only does it document the horror that these people went through, but it actually explains the cycle of hate without being at all preachy. Everything you need to know about the cycle of torture and hate is in the in the very first frame and the last frame. The ending manages to be both poignant and tragic at the same time and will likely stay with you long after. The viewer is left to ask “Is the ending a redemption or does she simply have no other options?”
The subject matter of this film isn’t for everyone and I can say without much hesitation that this was one of the more difficult films I have ever had to watch. In particular the ongoing rape and violence to a young girl is particularly hard to watch. Having said that though, the film is an artistic triumph that works both as a historical document and brilliant piece of film making.
Review by Kelly Stewart TIFF 2010