The title of “No Man’s Land” refers to the strip of dirt that lies Serbian and Bosnian lines, where the bulk of the film takes place. But it also refers to everyone’s passivity regarding that war, a war no one will accept responsibility for and which the rest of the world would just as soon ignore.
Those ideas are what give the Oscar-winning film its gravity and importance, but they are combined with a healthy dose of cold, grim humor that arises naturally from the life-or-death situation the protagonists find themselves in. Instead of being a relentlessly bleak war picture, “No Man’s Land,” written and directed by Danis Tanovic, reminds us that even in dire moments — perhaps especially in dire moments — life’s little ironies and amusements will emerge.
A Bosnian relief squad has been gunned down in a trench in no man’s land, and two Serbian soldiers are sent to make sure no one survived. They are Nino (Rene Bitorajac), a young, inexperienced man with glasses; and a grumpy, older soldier (Mustafa Nadarevic) whose name we do not learn.
In the trench, not everyone has died. Tchiki (Branko Djuric) has escaped with smallish injuries, and he hides as Nino and his partner investigate. As a cruel joke, the older Serbian puts a mine underneath the body of one of Tchiki’s fallen comrades. It is weight-sensitive, so that when someone moves the body, it will explode.
As it turns out, the dead body is that of Tchiki’s friend Tsera (Filip Sovagovic), and he is not dead after all. Neither Nino nor Tchiki can escape the trench without being hit by the other side, and Tchiki won’t leave without Tsera anyway. It’s a stalemate, and the two enemies must become resourceful.
Tanovic tells his story coolly and carefully, allowing it to speak for itself without much showiness on his part. The performances are low-key, and the dark comedy of the situation is played with deadpan precision. War is stupid, and the people who participate in it are buffoons.
The uselessness of the U.N. forces, the earnest cluelessness of the media, the absurdity of the civil war that started the whole thing — all are targets. Ultimately, the tone is sad and somber, and very, very touching.
A- (; )