No Man’s Land : Peaceful Inspiration from War Film

 

by Meiling Tang, JNL61004, MA International Public and Political Communication, University of Sheffield (UK)

This blog post will discuss how No Man’s Land, a film, can help build peace. No Man’s Land, a film produced in 2001, is set against the backdrop of the Bosnian War and is a story of cooperation and struggle between soldiers from several different sides in the war. The writer and director is Danis Tanović, who was born and raised in Bosnia and Herzegovina and experienced the Bosnian War himself. He is, therefore, able to present the war from the point of view of a real participant and victim, and to bring inspiration to audience. No Man’s Land, is a satirical comedy that demonstrates the war from multiple perspectives and shows the absurdity of war through storylines to call for peace and build peace. As Milena (2012: 457) claims, this film is “replete with crude dark humor, reductive anti-Western sentiments, and absurd situations”. The power of peacebuilding in this film is derived from the paradoxical traits of the film.

The film is categorized on movie websites as “War” and “Comedy”

These two characteristics ‘war’ and ‘comedy’ seem to represent an oxymoron. Whereas war stands for detah and tragedy, comedy should bring a sense of pleasure to the viewer. Much of the first half of the film is humorous, but beneath the humor is the tragedy of war. In the film, two soldiers from different camps, neither of whom believes that the war was started by their troops, begin to argue. When Bosniak soldier Čiki has a gun in his hand he starts to threaten Serbian soldier Nino and forces him to admit that it was the Serbian side that started it. And when Nino seizes the weapon later on, he forces Čiki in turn to admit the fault of their army in the same way, and even questions the words and answers in the same way. The back-and-forth makes people laugh. But behind the humorous undertones of this mutual complaint is the suggestion that the soldiers are both perpetrators and victims. It shows that ordinary soldiers agree with the idea of peaceful cooperation, especially assenting to civil peace. But this idea is far from reality. As Panjeta (2014: 121) claims, authors of these war films hold an adamant position of stands: “war was unnecessary, there were no winners, and it was all for nothing”. When Čiki and Nino first meet, Čik possesses guns and weapons and has an advantage, so to be able to escape from No Man’s Land, he forces Nino to walk to the dangerous ground, taking off his clothes, waving his white short sleeves to make the army know their whereabouts and make them safe. In this scene, because of the weapon, Čiki can order Nino to do what he doesn’t want to do at the risk and has a condescending attitude. This is a metaphor that the groups with military superiority would mutilate and slaughter the weaker in wars. The image of Nino dancing in his underwear to attract the troops is absurd and ridiculous. But it is essentially an expression of incivility, a failure to show respect for the dignity of others(Shils, 1997). And Boyd (2006) argues civility has the function of maintaining peace and order, and its intrinsic value obliges us to respect others. This absurd violence and uncivilization set the scene early on for the ending in which no one survives. By the end of the film, the three main characters in the story are either dead by the gun or left to wait helplessly for death to come.  No Man’s Land is a film that buries tragedy behind the humidity and leaves people feeling the hopelessness and tragedy of war after a good laugh.

Friends and enemies

Another point of conflict that runs throughout the film is the two shifts in the identity of the protagonist. The film opens with the two sides meeting as enemies. Although they act as soldiers in a war, it is evident from the dialogue that they desire peace. For example, in the first half of the film, a Bosniak soldier asks why Čiki is here instead of opening a restaurant. With a deep-seated desire for peace and a desire to get out of No Man’s Land safely, the rival soldiers begin to reduce their hostility and try to communicate. As a result, there is a first shift in identity: from enemies to collaborative partners. And then after chatting, Nino and Čiki confirm that they know the same person through their appearance description. It shows in the period before the civil war, they could peacefully enjoy the same sky, have common friends in common, and even be friends, because they are brothers and sisters living on the same land originally. They discover the common ground after religious belief and historical conflict through discourse and reached a consensus of cooperation. Celik (2021) argues for countries in ethnic conflict, listening to other people’s stories and embracing the multiple narratives of war is crucial to improving inter-group relations and building peace. This is a sort of mutual expression and listening and can change attitudes and views to regard the conflict from the standpoint of the other party. In this case, the film shows the viewer the possibility of peace. But in the middle of the film, due to mutual distrust and the drive for profit, the protagonists undergo a second shift in identity: from partners working together to escape from their predicament, they become hostile once again. Čiki was once able to suppress his hatred and say “No, we are not like them”, even when he is angry enough to point a gun at Nino. He is able to turn his anger into a forward-looking vision because he believed from the bottom of his heart that killing was a wrong choice. Ironically, at the end of the film, Čiki fails to control his emotions after being rescued by the peacekeepers, picks up a gun, and kills Nino. And Čiki is also shot by the peacekeepers. The comparison appears to warn people that controlling emotions can bring peace, while impulsiveness can only lead to the extinction of each other. Through the transformation of the characters, the film creates a picture of what could have been. The world could have been a different place if we had communicated if had been civilized.

This blog post reflects on how films play a role in the construction of peace after the civil war. Films often have the power to encourage social change. Because the moving image of a film can shape the audience’s influence on reality, and thus affect behavior. A film should not be a simple representation of reality but should explain it, think about it, help the audience look back at history, and then show possible futures. Therefore, in order to build peace, films should emphasize peaceful cooperation, whether the cooperation is successful or not, but can provide corresponding vision and imagination. In No Man’s Land, the film not only shows the possibility for the opposing parties to get out of trouble because of cooperation but also shows the mutual damage caused by hatred and emotion. In addition, respect and equality should also be reflected in the use of discourse in films, which are all necessary prerequisites to attract and guide audiences.  In summary, especially in post-war countries, the film should not be limited to art but should assume the responsibility of peacebuilding. No Man’s Land was translated into English, Serbo-Croatian, English, French, German for release. And the film Won the 74th Oscar for foreign-language film in 2001. It has achieved better results from the point of view of communication. The stories of the little people behind the war were brought to light, and the traumatic effects of the war on the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina were also complained about. Moreover, the film expanded its audience from people in Bosnia and Herzegovina to those in the world.

Bibliography

Boyd, R. (2006) ‘The Value of Civility?’, Urban studies (Edinburgh, Scotland), 43(5/6), pp. 863–878.

Celik, A.B. (2021) ‘Agonistic peace and confronting the past: An analysis of a failed peace process and the role of narratives’, Cooperation and conflict, 56(1), pp. 26–43.

Costalli, S. and Moro, F.N. (2012) ‘Ethnicity and strategy in the Bosnian civil war: Explanations for the severity of violence in Bosnian municipalities’, Journal of peace research, 49(6), pp. 801–815.

Harsch, M.F. (2015) The power of dependence : NATO-UN cooperation in crisis management. First edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kim, S. Kollontai, P. and Yore, S. (2016) Mediating peace: reconciliation through visual art, music and film. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Marinkova, M. (2010) ‘Po-co-co Balkans: Dancing Bears and Lovesick Donkeys, Bouncing Mines and Ethnic Conflict in Two Films from the Region ‘,Third text, 24(4), pp. 457–469.

No Man’s Land (2001) Directed by D.Tanović. Available at:v.qq (Accessed: 10 November 2021).

Panjeta, L.(2014) ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in Bosnian Cinema ‘, Epiphany. Journal of Transdisciplinary Studies, 7(2), pp.113-127.

Shils, E. (1997) The Virtue of Civility and other Essays, ed. by S. Grosby. Indianapolis: Liberty Press

Vaage, J.S.(2014). Reel peace. The emerging field of peace film (Master’s thesis, The University of Bergen).

 

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