Welcome To Sarajevo review

Taking Natasha's Story ( by veteran ITN reporter Michael Nicholson) as his cue, Brit director Michael Winterbottom (Jude) plonks his cameras, crew and an all-star cast in the central location of Europe's bloodiest conflict since World War Two.

The plot is simple but effective - Stephen Dillane plays Henderson (the thinly-disguised Nicholson character), a family man obsessed with the plight of Sarajevo's war orphans and the fate of one girl, Emira, in particular. His attempts to smuggle out (and later adopt) her provide a narrative thread by which Welcome To Sarajevo pulls the audience through the nightmare of life in a city under siege. Playing fast and loose with recent history allows Winterbottom to document many of the more famous episodes of the four-year siege. Thus, although the film is shot through with moments of quite sickening violence, it also makes good use of the humour which kept Sarajevo sane in that time. From concentration camps to beauty contests, all life is here.

Winterbottom, perhaps wisely, steers clear of the ethnic politics behind the war, with his most raging criticism reserved for the West. The fearsome Serbian Chetniks make for effective bad guys (the scene where they storm a bus full of children is truly terrifying), but the real villains are the various Western diplomats whose bland pronouncements litter the story.

Not all the film is successful. Woody Harrelson is at his laconic best as foolhardy American correspondent Flynn, but most of the other starry cameos only serve to distract from the effortless performances of the native actors. And why the director provided a contemporary rock soundtrack apeing countless Vietnam movies (instead of Hendrix and The Doors, read The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays) remains a mystery.

But the saving grace, and the true star of Welcome To Sarajevo, is the city itself. Shot almost entirely on location, using willing Sarajevans as extras, Winterbottom creates a realism and resonance most war films dare not dream of. Some may leave the cinema wondering whether such a recent conflict is suitable fare for film, but Winterbottom argues that for Sarajevans, it is silence they fear most.

What could have been a disaster emerges a triumph. Visceral and bold, this is film-making of the highest order. And, given Miramax's recent record at the Oscars, don't be surprised if this is one of the front-runners for the gongs.

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