Welcome to Sarajevo (1997) or What would I have done?

I´m not normally sitting there watching a movie and asking myself constantly: What would I have done but I did while watching this film. Michael Winterbottom´s movie Welcome to Sarajevo is one of the very highly acclaimed war movies. It is based on a true story, Michael Henderson´s account of his stay as a war reporter in Sarajevo. Sure, war and journalism is a theme that is likely to be explored and Winterbottom is of course not the only filmmaker to have done so (The Killing Fields, We Were Soldiers, Full Metal Jacket, Generation Kill, Das Boot to name but a few,  deal with it to some extent). His second theme, war and children, has also been the center of many movies (Hope and Glory, Empire of the SunLa vita è bella aka Life is beautiful ). His major theme however is involvement. How much should we get involved? And in this specific context: Can a reporter only watch and stay outside?

Still somehow I didn´t like this much praised work and was glad when reading a comment on imbd from a person who lived through the siege of Sarajevo that he did not really like it since he found the setting unrealistic or rather the filmmakers had taken too many liberties with the setting. Funny enough that is exactly what I sensed and it spoiled a lot for me.

Winterbottom filmed shortly after the war, on site. We see a lot of destroyed buildings.  So much destruction is utterly depressing. Journalists live in abandoned hotels, meet in the evening in bars and discuss the days events and filming. Some pictures are really awful and the journalists  voyeuristic approaching of wounded, dead and dying people is shown in all its tastelessness. Intrusion without involvement.

The British reporter Michael Henderson (Stephane Dillane convincingly disenchanted and thoughtful) and the American Flynn (Woody Harrelson a bit of a sicko role as usual) were two of those vulture like creatures running to every scene whenever they heard a gunshot, firing, a bomb or screams. While Flynn appreciates the adventure quality of it all, Michael gets more and more weary. When they discover an orphanage that is located in one of the most dangerous zones of the city and he realises, even when he films the most realistic documentaries, the world just doesn´t give a damn, he´s had it. All through the movie we see original footage of the world´s then presidents. What they say combined with what we see would make great material for war satire.

Seeing those children, little babies, abandoned toddlers and older children Michael knows he can´t stay out of all of this. He wants to help and he does help. The journey he undertakes together with an American aid worker (Marisa Tomei – she´s such an endearing actress too bad her role is much too short) is the best part of the movie. Together with a few children and especially one girl whom Michael has promised a better life in England the escape the besieged city and try to get to Italy or England respectively. It´s an extremely dangerous and hazardous journey and you wish the whole time that they will make it. People like Michael truly make a difference.

Oh, by the way, what would you have done?


11 thoughts on “Welcome to Sarajevo (1997) or What would I have done?

  1. TPC says:

    You know what this movie is slightly similar too?? The formula is a bit like the El Salvador movie “Under fire” with Nick Nolte and Gene Hackman which really is fairly good. I almost confuse it with the other movie, simply “Salvador” with James Belushi and James Woods.

    Back to the Sarajevo movie, Oliver Stone’s “The Saviour” is fairly good and hard hitting and in fact, portrays the 3 sides. On the free movie channels, there is another former Yugoslavian movie, I can faintly remember it but where they try to find the war criminal types that are hidden away in the mountains. That movie has Richard Gere.

  2. TPC says:

    Thank you for your response, http://www.amazon.com/Savior-Dennis-Quaid/product-reviews/B000056BOC <— that is the link for the Oliver Stone movie, I guess it is simply "Savior" also, I came back to correct myself because that is one of those words spelled differently in English and American English. I think it's worth watching, agree or not with Oliver Stone, he makes compelling movies usually. I may be wrong, maybe it's a poor movie. The main character is an American Mercenary type it seems from the reviews I saw. I'm not sure if "Mercenary" is proper. It hits hard a bit, not that easy to watch over and over.

    • I just looked at it on amazon. Yes, you are right, it looks good. I have heard of this. I am at the moment rewatching Oliver Stone´s movies anyway. Want to make a review on him. Then I just noticed that Alexander Skasrgard´s father Stellan Skarsgard is in Savior.

  3. TPC says:


    Savior from the reviews you can read seems to be highly recommended.

  4. […] to TPC who commented on my post “Welcome to Sarajevo” I discovered this movie and have finally watched […]

  5. […] of them in later posts,  like I already did with Hope and Glory (see post), Welcome to Sarajevo (link to post), The Children of Huang Shi (see post) and Savior (see post). I am stating the name and the year […]

  6. […] Under Fire belongs to the war movie subgenre of War and Journalism. There are quite a lot of movies in this sub-genre and a great many are from the 80s. The Year of Living Dangerously, Circle of Deceit, The Killing Fields, Salvador, Missing and later movies like Welcome to Sarajevo (see my post). […]

  7. […] watch really good movies on the war in Bosnia I suggest you rather stick to Welcome to Sarajevo (see my review), Savior (see my review) and No Man’s Land (review […]

  8. Bosnian says:

    SAVIOR is not Oliver Stone film, it is a Serbian shit.
    -Perfect Circle- is a good film. And on YouTube there are some fine footage of war if you like to watch someone other misery.
    And I know you from West like that…

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