|(E) Harrison's Flowers - film set in Vukovar
|By Nenad N. Bach |
Culture And Arts
(E) Harrison's Flowers - film set in Vukovar
A film set in Vukovar 1991 is due out in the US shortly. Here's an early review, found at
Film opens on Friday march 15th across USA. Please support it.
Film reviewed by James Berardinelli
Director: Elie Chouraqui
Cast: Andie MacDowell, David Strathairn, Elias Koteas, Adrien Brody,
Even today, with Slobodan Milosevic awaiting trial for crimes against
humanity, most U.S. citizens understand neither the extent nor the gravity
of the atrocities committed in the former Yugoslavia during the bloody
revolution that turned a country into a charnel house. One reason for the
apparent apathy is a lack of understanding - brief, horrific images on CNN
are not conducive to grasping a situation of social, cultural, and
political upheaval. An even greater consideration is distance. Yugoslavia
is half a world away, and, to many people, as remote as Mars. This wasn't a
bloodbath happening in our backyard. September 11, 2001 showed how this
country can react to a threat that is close and immediate. Such was not the
case in the brutal conflict between the Serbs and Croats.
Harrison's Flowers personalizes the war for one New Jersey couple. The year
is 1991. Harrison Lloyd (David Strathairn) is an award-winning Newsday
photojournalist who has decided to retire in order to spend more time with
his wife, Sarah (Andie MacDowell), and their two children. His editor (Alun
Armstrong) convinces him to stay on in the short term until a replacement
can be found. Harrison's agreement has dire consequences. His next
assignment takes him to Yugoslavia, where the civil unrest is turning ugly.
There, Harrison disappears and is presumed dead. But, because there is no
body, Sarah will not accept that he is gone. So, alone and equipped with
only a camera, she heads for the epicenter of the conflict - Vukovar - and
quickly learns firsthand how war can turn human beings into rabid beasts.
At its heart, Harrison's Flowers is a love story, albeit a graphic and
difficult one. It shows the lengths to which a woman will go when presented
with the slimmest of hope that her husband might still be alive. As a
character observes, "If we could all be so lucky to have a woman love us
that much." Sarah's journey into Yugoslavia's heart of darkness changes
many things about her, not the least of which is her view of human nature,
but it never shakes the core of her being. She places Harrison above her
children and herself - finding him becomes central to her existence. If he
has died in Vukovar, she will meet her end there as well.
Although her journey starts out as a solo endeavor, she is eventually
joined by three other journalists, all of whom knew Harrison: Americans
Kyle (Adrien Brody) and Yeager (Elias Koteas), and Brit Stevenson (Brendan
Gleeson). Hardened as these men are by things they have witnessed during
previous assignments, nothing prepares them for the barbarity they
experience as they gain firsthand knowledge of what is meant by the term
"ethnic cleansing". Writer/director Elie Chouraqui gives us a series of
memorable, harrowing visual cues, none of which is more disturbing that the
shot of a dead girl, shot through the head, with dried blood caking her
inner thighs - evidence of what was done to her before the coup de grace
was administered. Chouraqui does not dwell on such images - merely showing
them is enough.
From a narrative standpoint, the film weakens during its final third. The
pace becomes rushed, and the carefully developed sense of tension erodes.
It's also around this point that a voiceover is introduced. Not having been
used during the early acts of the film, its inclusion is jarring and
out-of-place (even though some of the information it provides is
interesting). Finally, while the ending brings a welcome sense of closure,
I'm not sure that the movie earns its final scene. Chouraqui seems to be
cheating at this point in order to provide a specific kind of conclusion.
Like Michael Winterbottom's Welcome to Sarajevo, Harrison's Flowers attacks
the Bosnian war from the perspective of outsiders. Films made about this
part of the world during this time period generally take one of two
approaches: drama heavily laced with black comedy and gallows humor (Pretty
Village, Pretty Flame; Welcome to Sarajevo; No Man's Land) or
straightforward tragedy (Vukovar). Harrison's Flowers falls into the latter
category. There's nothing even vaguely satirical or ironic about this
Despite having an English-speaking cast and several recognizable American
stars, Harrison's Flowers was made with French money for a European
audience. The movie opened in France more than a year ago. Current events,
however, have given this film a new relevance, and that may generate some
interest at the box office (although this is not seen as having mainstream
appeal). Harrison's Flowers offers a glimpse of what happened in 1991 as
Milosovich bulldozed his way into power over the corpses of his enemies,
while sounding a cautionary note that, in today's shrinking world, no
conflict is so distant that its ripples cannot be felt in our homes.
© 2002 James Berardinelli
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