Esma's Secret review

The past haunts the present in this coming-of-age drama from Bosnian writer-director Jasmila Zbanic. Set in the Sarajevan suburb of Grbavica, Esma’s Secret explores the relationship between a hard-up single mum Esma (Mirjana Karanovic) and her tomboyish 12-year-old daughter Sara (Luna Mijovic). A teacher tells the latter that she can go on a school trip for free because her late father was a “shaheed” (military martyr), but why is Esma so reluctant to provide Sara with a copy of the required death certificate? Eliciting fine performances, the filmmaker paints a low-key yet revealing portrait of a society struggling to come to terms with ‘normal’ life after a traumatic civil war. An economical, sensitive storyteller, Zbanic grounds her film in a series of credible interactions – most notably a touching friendship between Esma and a former soldier Pelda (Leon Lucev), who muses, “If I remembered everything, I’d kill myself.”


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