Monday, February 23, 2009

The Powers that Be

A group of activists in Mostar, from the group DOSTA! (meaning: Enough!) late last night put up posters all over town to protest the inefficiency of the city government, which for the last 5 months has stalled on appointing a new mayor and thus has not adopted a city budget. The two sides (Croat and Bosniak) refuse to do what is right for the good of the city, because their first priority is protecting their own financial and political interests. I love it when people protest peacefully! when they decide that it is their responsibility as citizens who love their country to press for change.

O Say can you sing?

Thirteen years after the end of the war in Bosnia-Hercegovina, lyrics for the new national anthem have finally been agreed upon. (Up until this point, an instrumental version of the anthem was always played instead.) The committee for selection of the text considered 329 other possibilities but the 30,000 KM prize for the winning authors was given for the lyrics below.

Ti si svjetlost duše
Vječne vatre plam
Majko naša zemljo Bosno
Tebi pripadam

Divno plavo nebo
U srcu su tvoje rijeke
Tvoje planine

Ponosna i slavna
Krajina predaka
Živjećeš u srcu našem

Pokoljenja tvoja
Kazuju jedno:
Mi idemo u budućnost

My approximate translation:
You are the brightness of the soul,
An eternal flame of fire,
Mother, our land Bosnia,
I belong to you.

The beautiful blue sky
of Herzegovina,
In (our) heart are your rivers
and your mountains.

Proud and glorious
the borders of our ancestors.
You will live in our heart

Your generations
say as one,
We go into the future

These lyrics don't really make sense in English... I'm told it doesn't make sense in Bosnian either! There is much complaining about the artistic quality (or lack thereof) of these 30,000 KM lyrics.

Here's a link if you want to hear the hymn being sung:

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Patria Mia

I recently watched a fascinating documentary, Patria Mia, produced by the same production house I mentioned in my previous post, The filmmaker follows the story of several Chinese immigrants-- a shopowner, an accupuncturist and most closely follows the life of a girl who sings turbo folk, a kind of very cheesy Serbian/Balkan music with inane lyrics about "love" and same-sounding, bland tunes-- actually, very reminiscient of much of mainland Chinese pop music in in those ways! The filmmaker uses the experience of these immigrants as a contrast with her experience, and the experience of many others in the Balkans, as refugees in other parts of Europe, and of course it was striking to me as a foreigner living here. The immigrants asserted that language learning was the most difficult aspect of their integration into Bosnian society and even the girl singer, who spoke Serbian very well, had to practice to properly pronounce the lyrics she was singing, especially the Rs. That was a bit sad to me as well, because I could see that for Balkan viewers some of the humor of the film is related to the mispronunciation of Bosnian words by these immigrants and the strange sound of their language. As a senior in college I spent a week in Athens studying the immigrant experience of Chinese people there and watching the film found many of the same issues...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Night at the Movies

Last night was the Mostar premiere of a new Bosnian film called The Nightguards (Cuvari Noci). The director and actors even came to Abrasevic to speak about the film and answer questions. The production company behind the film is, a Sarajevo-based production house for documentaries and more artsy films. We showed another film by in November, Snow (Snijeg). I was struck by how similar the two films felt-- slow paced, nuanced, character driven with an ensemble cast, reminiscent of Altman films, although a bit more spare (perhaps due more to lack of resources than conscious choice.) An obvious difference between the two is that Nightguards features an all male cast (the only female actress is present only as a voice over the phone) whereas Snow's cast is almost entirely female and the director is a woman as well. Snow is more emotional and dramatic whereas Nightguards is more ironic and humorous, but these moods are conveyed through very similar cinematography with long shots and natural lighting.

These films present a drastic contrast to most of the other Bosnian post-war-not-set-in-war films I have seen (Gori Vatra, Grbavica, Tesko je Biti Fin, etc), with their black humor, farcical elements and violence. They remind me more of Fifth Generation films from China (admittedly, this is likely due to the fact that 5th Gen are the only films I have studied and know about-- I briefly considered throwing in a reference as well to Italian neo-realism but I don't know anything about it!), which are similarly slow paced, with little dialogue and beautiful spare cinematography. They are similar to in that 5th Generation filmmakers were the first ones to make films in China after the trauma of the Cultural Revolution and Bosnian filmmakers today are still dealing with the trauma of the war, a difference being that Chinese filmmakers faced serious issues of government censorship, whereas it seems to me (although maybe this isn't accurate) that Bosnian auteurs have more freedom of expression, although they still mostly funded by the government. These Chinese filmmakers in the end grew to become more commercial (um, plot driven) while still preserving the artistic element (in my opinion), but new filmmakers like Zhang Jiake emerged and created more gritty, urban portraits... Where will Bosnian film go from here? I can't wait to see.
PS: for those who read my post about Bosnian dentists... when the main character in the film is sick, he begins to drink, you guessed it, tea. :)