Welcome To Sarajevo

on November 26, 1997 by Lael Loewenstein
   One of the most acclaimed films at Cannes, this Michael Winterbottom ("Jude") film is a complex, deeply moving story of life in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war. As told from the perspective of several English-speaking journalists stationed in Sarajevo, and with the help of actual news footage, the war is portrayed in its unrelenting and inexplicable violence. And yet the film never feels like a documentary: It's an extraordinarily affecting, personal, and at times uplifting tale.
   The choice to have the story unfold through the British and American journalists' eyes is especially effective; they serve as the moviegoer's surrogates and interpreters. Not only do they help to render understandable much of the Bosnian political situation, they also draw us into the story. A motley crew comprised of seasoned news correspondent Michael Henderson (stage actor Stephen Dillane), his hard-working producer Jane Carson ("Shallow Grave's" Kerry Fox), novice reporter Annie McGee (Emily Lloyd) and jaded, cynical correspondent Flynn (Woody Harrelson), the press corps strive to maintain their objectivity. When Henderson begins to broadcast daily from a local orphanage, however, it soon becomes clear that objectivity is impossible. And, when a young American aid worker (Marisa Tomei) arrives to help some of the children escape, Henderson decides to smuggle out a girl to whom he has become attached.
   This is a flawed but powerful film. At times its emotional pull (desperation etched on the orphans' faces) is so strong it threatens to overwhelm the audience, yet Winterbottom maintains a careful balance between sentiment and fact. And there's a powerful lesson here. The news footage of the wounded Sarajevans is brutally shocking, but perhaps no more shocking than the footage of actual politicians and diplomats, showing the blind eye turned on Bosnia by a world too busy to help.    Starring Stephen Dillane, Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Produced by Graham Broadbent and Damian Jones. A Miramax release. Docudrama. Rated R for brutal images/war atrocities and language. English- and Bosnian-language; English subtittles. Running time: 100 min. Screened at Cannes.
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