Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams

Bosnia in the 1990s: Just as depressing as we remember.

Awash in daily news of mass savagery, collective memory grows short. We feel for the women of Afghanistan, but who these days remembers the war widows and rape victims of the 1992–95 civil war that sent Yugoslavia to hell and brought it back a divided country? Now comes the young Bosnian writer-director Jasmila Zbanic to remind us of one of the more devastating consequences of ethnic cleansing, a Serbo-Croat euphemism for genocide that has since morphed into a gruesomely useful term to describe mass killings from Rwanda to Iraq. Titled with heavy irony, Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams is set in the eponymous Sarajevo neighborhood that was formerly a Serbian internment camp and now houses a large concentration of women who subsist on slim government handouts and bitter memories. The word "grbavica" also means "woman with a hump," an evocative image that Zbanic harnesses to symbolize the burden carried by her protagonist, Esma, a careworn, middle-aged single mother played with matter-of-fact directness by Mirjana Karanovic. Grbavica is neither formally nor intellectually a sophisticated work. But it's a womanly movie in the best sense: Zbanic has a deeply feminine sense of how crisis gets filtered through the domesticity of daily life.

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