We might be forgiven for thinking that we know all there is to know about the war in Bosnia, 1992 – 1995. Years of daily media coverage ought to have provided us with a comprehensive knowledge about this war that caused an estimated 200,000 and 250,000 fatalities. Around 1.5 million refugees fled the country.
And yet, sometimes you realise that you don’t really know at all. This happens when viewing Jasmila Zbanic’s Red Rubber Boots (2000). The film is an unsentimental portrayal of a woman searching for her husband and two children who were abducted by the Serbian army in 1992. The woman accompanies a commission seaching for missing persons in well-hidden and often inaccessible mass graves. At the time of the film’s production, the remains of more than 8,000 people had been found thanks to the patient and persistent efforts by the commission. The woman’s husband and children were not among those found.
While the continual media coverage creates a filter that effectively sets these events in a distant there, Jasmila Zbanic's film has an immediacy that also provides us with a sense of simultaneity. Her film takes place today, in an ordinary, European, everyday reality. Without being spectacular or sensational, even without providing significantly new information, this usually parallell reality is suddenly made visible by Zbanic. It’s shocking because the events take place in a common here.
The media images of war are often characterised by rapid editing, fast tempo and intense sound. In contrast, Jasmila Zbanic slows down the pace and reduces. She works in a documentary tradition, fully aware of the genre's inherent pitfalls: the film's characters are never completely exposed, nor are they made into victims. Even though Red Rubber Boots is a film about grief, this is never portrayed in a straight-forward manner; it emerges from the gap between the beautiful landscape in which the commission is travelling and the reason why they are doing it. The information given to us is astonishingly sparse. And despite the strong feeling of presence, Jasmila Zbanic paradoxically keeps a respectful distance from the events she portrays.
Jasmila Zbanic, born 1974 in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. 'Red Rubber Boots', 35 mm film transferred to DVD, 18 min, 2002. The film has been shown in a large number of exhibitions and film festivals, including the Istanbul Biennial 2003.
For more information and press images, please contact Index. The Index exhibition programme is curated by Andreas Gedin, Helena Holmberg, Mats Stjernstedt and Niklas Östholm.