Goodbye Sarajevo. Goodbye to all that you once were, to the culturally rich and thriving city that was the focal point of the world during the Summer Olympics of 1980, to the torn and ravaged city now besotted with despair and hostility.
Michael Winterbottom’s Welcome to Sarajevo (Miramax) disconnects itself from the political entanglements and historical intricacies of the area and throws itself to the wolves, down into the trenches of the hysteria and mass confusion promulgated by the war.
The quasi-documentary follows the members of the international press corps – a group of correspondents covering a war the world did not care about. A whirlwind of emotions, the film ultimately evokes an unsettling feeling. The omnipresence of war always is felt.
Take the opening scene: The lively spirit of a family jubilantly preparing the bride for her wedding is abruptly shot down as a barrage of live ammunition takes the lives of the bride’s mother and her bridesmaids. What should have been a day of joy turns into a day marked by tragedy. The scene is wrenching.
Part of what the movie seeks to convey is that war in Sarajevo – like any other wars – does not discriminate, nor make exceptions.
The film becomes more personal by focusing its lens on one of the journalists, Stephen Dillane, and his plight to get involved with a war orphan. Dillane, doggedly determined, does all he can to save Mirra by bringing her back to London with him. Dillane’s plight draws a parallel to the difficulties of those victimized by the war.
Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny) plays the role of a foreign relief worker, and fits the part like a glove. Her natural sincerity only strengthens the manner in which she is able to convey her concern for the children of the war.
Woody Harrelson (The People vs. Larry Flint), as flamboyant as ever, plays the role of a “bad boy” reporter. He is the Larry Flint of the press corps. Loud and outspoken, Harrelson proves distracting at times. It seems any time the camera focuses on him, the audience eagerly awaits his witty remarks or quips, turning him into a separate attraction.
Regardless of this slight flaw, Welcome to Sarajevo stands tall. Its rhythmic and pulsating soundtrack plays a prominent role in conveying the actuality of the war. The everyday 1980s Top 40 musical score, interspersed throughout the film, captures the reality that death in Sarajevo is as common as the Rolling Stones heard over British radio.
Welcome to Sarajevo is not for the weak at heart. No embellishing or Hollywood-izing here. Just pith and honesty.
Welcome to Sarajevo is now playing.