No Man's Land (2001) (R)

There are staples in war movies, like Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan"; but mostly there are staples in anti-war movies. From Malick to Kubrick (twice) to Stone, the biggest names in American cinema usually all say the same thing: war is bad.
So you have anti-war movies and then you have really anti-war movies and "No Man's Land" is one of the latter; but hold your judgement because it does deserve to be in with the best of the best when it comes to war movies.
Set in the time of the Serbia-Bosnia conflict (which was only 20 years ago), "No Man's Land" begins as a group of Bosnian soldiers gets lost in the fog on the way back to camp. They decide to spend the night, whispering quietly, not smoking, just trying to avoid being detected; yet when they wake up the next morning and they find that the sun had cleared away the fog, it's to their dismay that they find themselves right next to the Serbian line.
They run and try to escape and are gunned down, only one of whom survives. Ciki (Branko Djuric) is the only member of his group to survive, and he's been shot in the shoulder. He sits and tries to form a plan.
Meanwhile, the Serbian militia decides that it would be a good idea to go down to the trenches in between the lines and try to find out what's going on. Their commander wants to know why a Bosnian outfit managed to get as close to the line as they did.
So two soldiers get elected to go down, one of them being newbie Nino (Rene Bitorajac). Once down in the trenches, they don't realize that they are stumbling onto the hiding place of Ciki, who has a longing for revenge. The two Serbians think they're alone and they goof around a little, taking one of Ciki's dead friends and setting him on a bounce mine, so that if he is moved, a deadly explosion will kill anyone within close proximity.
But it doesn't all end well and Ciki shoots the older man and wounds Nino in the stomach. He doesn't kill him so that he can pump him for information, but being the newbie, Nino doesn't know a great deal about anything.
The situation gets more tense as the two square off and suddenly they realize that the man they placed on the mine isn't actually dead.
"No Man's Land" is a thriller and a nail-biter; but also a keen piece of work, highly measured and never more emotional than it has to be. It's a movie filled with the most honest of performances and the simplest of ideas.
The two men have to deal with each other and try not to get killed as they think of a way to get out of the trenches and back to their respective sides. Things start to take unexpected turns as the peace corp is called in, but finds itself immersed in red tape.
Possibly the greatest movie made about a war that very few films touch on, "No Man's Land" doesn't try to placate to its viewer by making a likable and friendly, relatable war. To most American eyes, this is a new experience, and that's a shame.
All preaching aside, "No Man's Land" has an angle as all anti-war movies do. With "The Thin Red Line", we saw war as a rape of nature, with "Platoon", war is a systematic failure, with "Paths of Glory", it's a greedy and self-righteous act that robs us of our decency, with "Full Metal Jacket", war turns men into monsters, with "All Quiet on the Western Front", war destroys youth, and with "No Man's Land", war is seen as the least human act of all.
I—like it or not—am surrounded by people who are convinced that war is an answer...I disagree. Without expounding upon my personal beliefs, it's a movie like "No Man's Land" that proves the point that war (it sounds so childish, yet you'd be surprised how many people disagree) is bad. It's hard to argue with a movie like this, not that you'd want to or should.
Writer and director Danis Tanovic provides us with a deeply frustrating, multi-layered, tour de force, a rarity in the film world, and something that everyone should see because it will floor you. The emotions are not the characters' but the audience's..."No Man's Land" is gripping and just about damn perfect.

Score: ★★★★

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