by Caroline Koebel
Set some ten years into the aftermath of Slobodan Milosevic’s onslaught in former Yugoslavia, Jasmila Zbanic’s Grbavica: Land of My Dreams (2005) does not examine how Esma (Mirjana Karanovic), the narrative’s protagonist, coped with life in a prisoner of war camp for Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks).
“My belly grew. With her inside. Even then they came….In twos, threes, every day.”
It does not account for how she was able to sustain herself day after day of multiple gang rapes, to continue indefinitely, and lasting well into her pregnancy with the “bastard Chetnik” daughter to whom she eventually gave birth. It does not detail Esma’s liberation from the camp. Rather, Grbavica follows Esma as mother of a now pubescent daughter as she confronts her struggle to exist in the present. The film proposes that for Esma to have the possibility of a future, she must speak the truth of her past in all its inexorable trauma. And in the process, the film hoes the battleground between ethics and truth.
Should a mother protect her child from knowledge of its identity as product of rape by the enemy? How does deceit once conceived take on a life of its own? Can internal conflict be represented so as to evoke sympathy while resisting sentimentality and sensationalism?