As If I Am Not There
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Time Out says
Tue Jun 28 2011Glancing over her CV, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Irish filmmaker Juanita Wilson harbours an almost masochistic desire to bring ‘challenging’ projects to the screen. As producer, she worked on a drama called ‘H3’, concerning the hunger strikes at Belfast’s Maze prison in the ’80s. Things got a bit lighter with 2004’s bizarre, cerebral- palsy-based feel-good comedy, ‘Inside I’m Dancing’.
With ‘As If I Am Not There’, her epically bleak directorial feature debut, her anti-commercial impulses go into overdrive as we’re given a suitably harrowing, close-quarters account of the mass rape committed by Serbian rebel fighters during the Balkan wars of the early ’90s.
Based on a novel by Slavenka Drakulic, the film hangs on a striking lead performance from newcomer Natasha Petrovic. She plays Samira, an idealistic student from Sarajevo who takes a job as a rural teacher. Almost instantly, a hoard of surly, lager-swilling gunmen mosey into town, execute the men and round up the women, some for work detail, some for the purposes of ‘entertainment’.
Wilson doesn’t wallow in the escalating succession of grim events, a restraint that shines through more in Tim Fleming’s careful, crisp cinematography than it does the slushily orchestral soundtrack. As the corpses pile up and shrieks of anguish get louder, a side plot develops in which Samira is selected by the commander of the group to be his personal plaything. Far from transporting the drama to even more grisly ethical terrain, things start to feel rushed and lazy. Via a spurious 30-second cameo from Stellan Skarsgård, we arrive at a rudimentary, semi-redemptive conclusion.
Author: David Jenkins
Cast and crew
Stellan Skarsgard, Miraj Grbic, Natasa Petrovic