Nine impressions on 1395 days…
1. A MINIMALISTIC ESSAY: A film is successful, good and interesting to the extent it succeeds in portraying life and in extracting narrative and thought-provoking potential from life. The siege of Sarajevo was by all accounts an extreme situation. An ideal film material. And a classic trap for authors with a penchant for the extreme. For such situations may yield a true cinematic and artistic potential only when the extreme in them is subdued and suppressed. When they are artistically transposed and reduced to that subtle substance which tells the story in an entirely different way. And that is how 1395 Days Without Red came to be, a minimalistic essay about extremely difficult times.
2. FAR AWAY FROM LIFE, FAR AWAY FROM TRUTH: As we all know and feel, we are constantly subjected to the relentless terror of the Hollywood film. Its key means of expression are detonations, car racing, fighting and pole dancing; its leading character – a helicopter. That helicopter will, at some point between minutes 45 and 80, inevitably explode, inevitably whilst up in the air and inevitably accompanied by a spectacular pyrotechnical event. The more there are detonations, flames and incredible, near-atomic mushroom clouds rising from common fires, the greater the success of any film. The chief narrative quality of this dominant genre in contemporary film industry is its remoteness from life. Where Hollywood ends, life begins.
3. WHAT ARE THE FACES, LEGS, MOVEMENTS, BODIES TELLING US: As her theme Šejla Kamerić chose a city butchered by detonations and she turned it into a film without pyrotechnics. And, as an artistic and cinematic bonus, she has succeeded in stirring up our memories of that horror which had lasted 1395 days. Instead of explosions, the story of bombing in this well-composed, obsessive, compulsive film is told through mime, looks, grimaces, legs of a person running, filmed just so, as legs independent of the body, as carriers of something that ought to be a human being, but it got dehumanised precisely by this act of running, it being the main form of body language in the city under siege.
4. STREETS DESERTED OF PEOPLE, ONLY PEDESTRIANS ARE SEEN: Film 1395 Days Without Red is a very successful anti-Hollywood experiment on how to achieve an expressive maximum on minimal resources. Instead of detonations, it being a commonplace of contemporary commercial films – its portrayal of horrors which real explosions had produced in real life is minimalistic in style and methodology. Everything in the film is stripped to its core. There is no traffic in the streets. Not even people. In their place are pedestrians, robbed of their human status, they are making their way through the city on foot, trying to retrieve (that is, regain) their lost status. In the film 1395 days… pedestrians are life-like, and not just a bunch of extras. The success of your survival technique in the besieged city was all about your technique of moving through that city. Some of those forgotten methods can be seen in the walk, pace, look, posture and the grimace of unforgettable Maribel Verdú.
5. CROSSROADS: Places of trial, locations where lives were decided. To sprint across a difficult crossroad – it was a demanding operation and an extraordinary trial for the body. Elderly, sickly men, barely mobile women, they all had to be somewhere – get bread or medications, trace a package or information, find some kind of shelter, a roof over their head. And between people and their aims stood crossroads, those factories of death where getting killed was quick and easy. It was on the crossroads watched by snipers that you could see how cheap one’s life was, and how easy it was to extinguish it. A single shot, a single moment, and it was all over.
6. MARIBEL WALKING ON GLASS: In one scene we see the actress walking on shards of glass. The reality of this was terrifying. After each round of heavy shelling, the Tito street would be paved with shattered glass and pieces of concrete, bricks, mortar. It is not easy walking on such path for your every step echoes so loudly that you think those watching you through the sniper sight can hear it too.
7. PASSAGEWAYS BETWEEN BUILDINGS: In the film those toponyms are important and employed frequently, just as they were important during the siege. Every time before going out, people would map out the safest route for their journey, and those urban imitations of tunnels were their life-saving shortcuts (or long detours, regardless, as long as they were life-saving). We plotted our routes across the city accordingly. The more passageways there were, the greater the chances of your getting to your destination alive. And perhaps getting back still in one piece.
8. WHAT YOU SAW WAS NOT AN ORDINARY RUN OVER A CROSSROAD: Can anyone who has not lived it imagine the psycho-physical and chemical processes taking place underneath that coat? Fast walking and sudden sprints make you sweat profusely, your blood boils, and then you have to cool down sitting in freezing cold rooms with no heating. A whole day passes in this change of rhythm, state and position: fast – slow, cold – hot, tensed – relaxed. Jin and Yang in the game of life and death.
9. AN ELEGANT LADY STROLLING THROUGH BESIEGED SARAJEVO: The city is under siege, it has been reduced to its ugliest manifestation. All traces of urban, refined and beautiful have long since disappeared. The rural now plagues this once refined urbanity. It brings on frustration, and a desire to resist the consequences of destruction of our once stylish existence, hence every exhibition, every concert or a successful song is proclaimed to be “yet another demonstration of our resistance of spirit to the aggressor in the hills.” That phrase made sense the first, the second, perhaps even the third time it was uttered, and after that it turned into a caricature, a platitude of the war propaganda as well as one of the most-joked-about stereotypes of the besieged Sarajevo. Despite the banality of its style and semantics, the phrase survived all criticism and for a long, long time it existed as the official definition of everything that was going on in the city.
Well, if that were the case, could we perhaps proclaim this elegant, dressed-up woman, slowly walking through the film, in no rush, suggesting in no fear too, to be some kind of an aesthetic, or at least stylish resistance to the aggressor? Amongst all those grey, shrivelled bodies, there comes a woman who is alive and lively, who refuses to be greyscaled and instead creates her own film. Insufficient for any kind of meaningful resistance to be sure, but perhaps good enough to make you feel good. And that is something already, to retain your dignity when no one expects it or demands it of you. The woman in the film was not an isolated instance, nor an exception that proved the rule, but rather a rule that proved the importance of exceptions: they are the safe-keepers of dignity. The women of Sarajevo were a miracle, they made our lives possible, easier, better. To make something out of nothing, to design and create food in an almost Sai Baba fashion; a true wartime and existential magic…