“Pretty Village, Pretty Flame” is a Serbian film about the Bosnian War. It was directed by Srdan Dragojevic. It was very popular in Serbia. It is based on a true story and attempts to explain why groups of Serbians turned against each other.
The movie opens with the dedication of a tunnel connecting Bosnia with Herzegovina. The ribbon cutter slices himself and bleeds profusely. Rather crude foreshadowing, no? Nine years later, two best friends stand in front of the abandoned tunnel entrance, but refuse to go inside because they are afraid an ogre is inside. A metaphorical ogre, yes. Milan is a Bosnian Serb and Halil is a Bosniak Muslim. Would you believe they end up on opposite sides of the conflict?
The plot is nonlinear, but is structured around Milan and some comrades being trapped in a tunnel under assault from Bosniak Muslims that include Halil. The movie flashes back to life in Yugoslavia before the conflict and forward to Milan in a hospital. The tunnel scenes are basically of the frontier fort under Indian attack variety. Milan’s comrades are a heterogeneous lot. They include a criminal, a druggie, a teacher, a family man, and a female reporter. Apparently, Serbian filmmakers are aware of small unit tropes. Naturally, this dysfunctional group gets picked off one by one.
“Pretty Village, Pretty Flame” is an interesting little movie. It effectively depicts the insanity of a civil war. Neighbors turn against each other. Best friends can end fighting each other. War is hell and civil war is especially hellacious. The movie is well acted and the dialogue is realistic for soldiers in their situation. The nonlinear structure works fairly well. There is some character development through the flashbacks. What keeps the movie from being better are the unreal tactics. Much of the incidents in the tunnel defy reason. For example, the trapped group do not flee deeper into the tunnel and the attackers do not attack after dark or use the RPGs that they clearly have. But hey, what fun would it be if the defenders were wiped out quickly?
Should you read it? Don’t put it high on your TBW list, but get around to it someday.
GRADE = B-