MOVIE REVIEW | Welcome to Sarajevo (1997)

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Michael Winterbottom is an interesting film maker.  I put him in the same category as Terry Gilliam, I don’t actually like that many of his movies, but I can’t help getting excited whenever I know he has something new out.  Even if I don’t like a lot of their movies, I’m always impressed by their ballsy originality, or at the very least, intrigued by their glorious failures.  Welcome to Sarajevo is a Michael Winterbottom movie, but I didn’t know that going in, and if I hadn’t seen his name sin the credits, I never would suspected he was connected to it.

Set during the Bosnian War in Sarajevo, Stephen Dillane plays British journalist Michael Henderson.  He hangs out with a group of colleagues played by Kerry Fox and James Nesbitt.  It’s obvious they’ve all been through a lot together on this job and have formed a bit of a clique.  A clique that is invaded by cocky, brash American journalist Flynn, played by Woody Harrelson.  Henderson’s frustrations rise as he sees the war get less and less coverage in the world’s media, and he soon takes on a personal project helping Marisa Tomei’s Nina save the children, and one child in particular, of an orphanage on the verge of destruction.

This is where Welcome to Sarajevo really surprised me.  Just when I thought I had the plot figured out and knew where it was headed, I realised we’d hit that climax and that there was still more than half an hour left.  It’s this last act that makes Welcome to Sarajevo so much more than the movie that I expected.  A sharp turn in direction, that never seems like a cheap trick or tacked on coda.

Welcome to Sarajevo has to be the least Michael Winterbottmy Michael Winterbottom movie I’ve ever seen.  Movies like The Trip, 24 Hour Party People and Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story all indulge in a certain level of gimmickry.  Characters breaking the fourth wall to talk directly to camera.  Actors breaking character to all of a sudden play a fictionalised version of their real selves.  As much as I liked those devices in those movies, Welcome to Sarajevo is much more straight forward than that.  Almost like Winterbottom thought the story was too serious, too raw and too important to trivialise with tricks and flourishes.

I will admit though, it did make me a feel either dumb, or just like I’m a cold asshole.  I’m still not sure which yet.  I’m old enough to remember the Bosnian War being big news, but watching Welcome to Sarajevo, I realised I know nothing about its intricacies or even what has happened to the regions and the people since.

Welcome to Sarajevo
Directed By – Michael Winterbottom
Written By – Frank Cottrell Boyce

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