DVD review: As If I Am Not There

Unless we have relatives or friends in the armed forces, it's sometimes difficult to imagine the atrocities of war. For many of us, our only real point of reference is the Second World War. But Juanita Wilson's film serves as a poignant reminder that you don't have to go that far back in history to be confronted with the horrors of war.

Samira (Natasa Petrovic) is a young teacher who is leaving the relative comforts of Sarajevo, to cover for a teacher in a small rural village.

She has little time to settle in however, as the village is soon overrun by Serbian soldiers. Samira soon finds herself amongst a community she has no ties with, facing an enemy she has no affiliation to.

It's soon clear that the Serbs do not follow any of international laws of the Geneva Convention, as they treat their prisoners as if they have no basic human rights at all.

Although Samira tries hard to blend in with the crowd, it doesn't take long before the soldiers take a special interest in her in ways that she'll never forget

There are some films that are made more to educate than enjoy and this is one such example. It's not only Samira's plight that is harrowing, but that of all the villagers. What makes it worse is that it is based on a number of true stories that happened during the Balkan conflict in the early nineties.

Petrovic is mesmerising throughout; she conveys her character's journey from optimism to the very depths of hell with raw emotion. What makes it even more remarkable is that it's also only her second feature. She has to work hard too, as she appears in almost every frame of the film. And as her vulnerability is shattered throughout the film, that's no mean feat.

She clearly felt comfortable being directed by Wilson; and considering that this was the Irish director's debut film, is again even more impressive.

Instead of relying on pages of dialogue, Wilson prefers to let her camera do the talking, as she allows it to narrate much of her story for her. It's all very subtle and yet highly effective.

It hauntingly taps into one woman's trials of survival during a wretched war. It's by no means an easy watch, but most films about war aren't supposed to be.  It may not be an easy story to tell, but it's one that's told so incredibly well that it's difficult to ignore.

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