No Man's Land review

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Behind the Denzel/Halle award combo, the biggest shock on Oscar night was seeing Danis Tanovic's anti-war satire beat hot favourite Amélie to the Best Foreign Language Film gong. But in the wake of 11 September, it's really no surprise the Academy chose this acerbic commentary on the folly of war over the sentimental whimsy of its Gallic rival.

Set in 1993 in the former Yugoslavia, No Man's Land tells of two wounded soldiers - Bosnian Chiki (Branko Djuric) and Serbian Nino (Rene Bitorajac) - who find themselves trapped in a trench between enemy lines. Forced to cooperate in order to save their skins, the pair inadvertently start a major international incident involving a team of well-meaning French peacekeepers, a pushy British newswoman (Katrin Cartlidge) and a supercilious colonel (Simon Callow) who's only interested in saving face.

Tanovic made his name directing documentaries about the Bosnian conflict, but his debut fictional feature could be about any war. The tragic absurdity of the situation is typified by a third soldier who can't move without setting off an American-made landmine, and the director never misses a chance to push home his anti-war sentiments through bitter humour.

At times, in fact, it's all laid on a little too thickly, and the English actors certainly overplay their hands with theatrical turns that are out of sync with the movie's low-key naturalism. But for all that, this is a bleakly amusing, deeply ironic allegory that's inevitably been compared to Catch-22 and M*A*S*H. It sure as hell beats Hollywood's recent look at the same war, Behind Enemy Lines.


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