Savior (1998): An Extremely Grim Movie about the War in Bosnia

Thanks to TPC who commented on my post “Welcome to Sarajevo” I discovered this movie and have finally watched it.

Oh – my – God.

Before even trying to attempt to describe this movie let me quote from a NY Times review by Stephen Holden:

As Mr. Quaid’s character, Guy, perilously makes his way through the war-torn countryside, the film portrays a land whose people, regardless of ethnicity, have been reduced to animalistic survival tactics by the violence that has devastated the region. The war has turned seemingly ordinary people into potential murderers, rapists and torturers. And the movie’s unblinking scenes of atrocities are among the most graphic and upsetting ever shown in a commercial film.

This sums up quite a lot. Savior is really heavy stuff and so depressing. The goriest battle scenes from any WWI, WWII or Vietnam movie can never get as depressing as this. Like the war in Rwanda. A tribal war.

Gritty realism is not all we see and I did have my problems with this movie. There is  a very Christian undertone all through it. Or not even an undertone, rather a loud drone. The character change of Guy (Dennis Quaid) is psychologically not very convincing. I can understand that he goes berserk after his wife and his son get blown up in a terrorist attack but from then on… He escapes with his friend (Stellan Skarsgard – not one of his better roles and far too short) to the French Foreign Legion and from there we follow him to Bosnia where he is fighting as a mercenary on the side of the Serbs. We see him commit atrocities until he and another soldier, Goran, get to drive Vera, a pregnant young woman back to her family. She has been raped by a muslim and is now being treated as if it was her fault. Her fellow Serbs hate, blame  and despise her for this. Goran is a brute and what we see him do to an old woman and later to Vera is almost not watchable. I tell you, not for one second do you want to imagine yourself in the situation of one of those women.

The illustration of women as victims in war movies does find its sad culmination point in Savior.

After Vera has given birth under the most inhuman circumstances something snaps in Guy and he seems to reclaim  his humanity. From then on he is “The Savior”. It is not very subtle that the filmmakers chose to show us repeatedly that Guy is wearing  a cross with a three-dimensional Christ nailed to it.

The bleak parts that deal purely with this godforsaken war are overwhelming. Maybe it would really have been too hard to watch if they hadn’t tried to gloss it over a bit. Be is as it may… This movie exudes such an honest try at showing the atrocities of this war that I really think it should be watched. What makes me extremely thoughtful is to think that if these atrocities had been invented by a script writer we would say: “What a sick mind!”. But this did happen… And not even so long ago…

A brief remark about the music. This movie has a very beautiful score, in parts traditional regional folk songs sung by mysteriously haunting female voices. Some of it can be heard in the trailer.

What do you think? Any people from ex Yugoslavia reading this? Is Welcome to Sarajevo the better movie?

I am not sure if Welcome to Sarajevo is better, but it is less controversial. When it comes to liking I must admit I am partial to Savior. I liked it much more than Welcome to Sarajevo. There is something in the character of Guy that I could relate to. Probaly his utter loneliness that encloses him like an aura. This cold sniper personality  he is wearing to shield himself and hide that he has been deeply wounded… I don’t approve of his acts, of course, but from an emotional point of view I think I get him.