Intense and intensely small scale, Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams (2006) from Bosnian writer-director Jasmila Zbanic is the kind of well-meaning film that actually gives well-meaning films a good name. It gets in, does its job and gets out in a tight 87 minutes, yet never feels rushed or cramped. The film marks the feature debut of its young filmmaker (born in 1974), whose previous credits were parts of omnibus films, and perhaps it is from those short narratives that she learned the economy she demonstrates here. The title of the film is chosen with grim irony, since Grbavica—a neighborhood in Sarajevo—was the sight of a prison camp during the war in Bosnia, a camp in which rape and torture were everyday practices. One survivor of this camp, Esma (Mirjana Karanovic) is the mother of a girl, Sara (Luna Mijovic), on the verge of womanhood, a girl who has been told that her father was a soldier who died fighting. It’s obvious, however, that the real story is somewhat different. It’s also obvious that Esma—like everyone around her—carries both scars and secrets relating to the war.
Ostensibly, the film is about Sara’s parentage, and this is the hook that carries the narrative forward. Yet, the film hints so strongly what the answer will be when it comes that there’s really no surprise to it. You get the sense that this aspect of the story, while important, is only a part of the bigger picture of the grim day-to-day existence in the post-war world of Sarajevo—a world in which the opening of mass graves so that people might have a chance to identify missing loved ones has become a fairly commonplace occurrence, and where gunplay seems like second-nature to children. In other words, it’s a world in which the unthinkable recent past has all but been assimilated into daily life. Surprisingly, however, the film itself is not an utter downer, and is instead focused on human resilience. Much of this is thanks to a brilliant performance from Mirjana Karanovic, who carries the bulk of the story. Very worthwhile.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke