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(E) Harrison's Flowers - film set in Vukovar
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  03/14/2002 | Culture And Arts | Unrated
(E) Harrison's Flowers - film set in Vukovar
 
FYI 
=============================== 
A film set in Vukovar 1991 is due out in the US shortly. Here's an early review, found at 
http://ofcs.rottentomatoes.com/click/movie-1112917/reviews.php?critic=movies 
&sortby=default&page=1&rid=294011 
 
Ante 
 
Op-ed 
Film opens on Friday march 15th across USA. Please support it. 
nb 
 
---------------------------- 
HARRISON'S FLOWERS 
Film reviewed by James Berardinelli 
France, 2000 
Director: Elie Chouraqui 
Cast: Andie MacDowell, David Strathairn, Elias Koteas, Adrien Brody, 
Brendan Gleeson 
 
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 
story. 
 
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 
e-mail: berardin@bc.cybernex.net 
 
 
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