Foreign Film Friday: ‘As if I am Not There’ (2010)

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MAJOR TRIGGER WARNING for anyone considering watching this week’s film, “As If I Am Not There.” This film depicts a young woman’s journey during the beginning of the Bosnian war. I cannot understate enough, this film features some of the toughest scenes I’ve ever watched. Its subject matter is VERY dark and is not for the lighthearted. That all being said, the film is incredibly well done.

Irish director Juanita Wilson does not hold any punches in her depiction of atrocities committed during the Bosnian war. The story is based on a compilation of real events/stories from the war. It follows a woman named Samira (Nataša Petrović), as she moves from Sarajevo to the countryside to become a schoolteacher. Quickly into her days in the country, Serbian soldiers’ take over the area and the movie takes a wicked turn from there.

The first thing to point out is the script, specifically the dialogue. Maybe I should say, the lack thereof dialogue. There are long periods of time in this film where there are zero words. But these scenes are some of the most intense of the film. It is able to use this haunting silence as an instrument to create anxiety. This is one of the best pieces of cinema where the filmmaker can utilize the dramatic pause so well.

The subject material is brutal, the script is brutal, and the direction follows suit, but is so stylistically amazing. I cannot even go into detail about many of the scenes just because of the content warning, but Juanita Wilson’s full-length directorial debut is absolutely stunning.

Scene from “As if I Am Not There”

The acting in this film is fantastic, and leading actress, Nataša Petrović is absolutely the best part of it all. As I pointed out before, a lot of this film (especially in the first half) contains no dialogue. The acting is through the expressions and mannerisms, and it is done so well. Both the acting and direction can narrate and convey every emotion so well without the use of much dialogue or a narrator, which I am particularly a large fan of.

The film doesn’t explain much in terms of the Bosnian war itself, but rather just Simira and a group of women from the countryside town. This was an obstacle because I had a hard time identifying the Serbian Troops, or even why the war was taking place. Now, this could be intentional to give you a sense of confusion considering how these were just thrown into being captives without any explanation. Nonetheless, the film overcomes this one tiny critique.

I also saw critiques saying that the subject material is done too tastelessly to be important. I disagree with this, but it is definitely a challenge to get through (as I even had to turn it off at one point — ultimately, I decided to finish it, and I’m glad I did). It did make me lose my appetite and put down my hoagie though. Overall, though, I think this film is important if you can get past some of the most grueling scenes. I give it a 4 ½ out of 5 stars.

Oh! And there was an unexpected Stellan Skarsgård appearance, which is always a pleasure.

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