Triage (2009)

“It’s complicated to be a survivor. Sometimes you have to place your faith in magic.”

Triage is a movie by Danis Tanovic, the director of No Man’s Land, another really great war movie. It is based on the eponymous novel by Scott Anderson.

What happened to Mark (Colin Farrell) in Kurdistan? He and his best friend David, both war photojournalist who have covered many wars, have flown to Kurdistan together in 1988. They want to cover an offensive that will take place in a few weeks. While they are there, they stay at a forlorn mountain clinic and watch how the doctor (Branko Djuric), at the end of his wits, with nothing else to do for the badly wounded, shoots them one by one. This affects Mark deeply. Later when he is back home he will still see the pictures of the tiny colored slips the doctors puts on the men. The color indicates how far gone they are and if he will have to shoot them or not. It’s part of the triage.

David’s wife is pregnant. The baby is due any day and he would like to go back. But Mark never wants to stop. There is always something more to cover, other shots to take. They quarrel and David finally decides to leave Mark and return on his own.

This is told in flash backs and it isn’t how the movie begins, the movie begins with a badly wounded Mark slowly regaining consciousness. He is at the mountain clinic. They found him near a river. He has no clue what happened to him. After he has recovered he returns home and finds out that David has still not arrived.

Mark’s wife Elena (Paz Vega) is quite shocked to see him in such bad shape and covered in wounds. Plus he is limping and the limp gets worse until he collapses one day. He is brought to a hospital and they find a piece of shrapnel in his head. Only that has nothing to do with the limp. Elena begs her grandfather, a Spanish psychologist, to come and help David. Together, they will reveal, bit by bit, what has happened to Mark and why David isn’t home yet.

I liked this movie a lot. I found the cast very interesting. Colin Farrell is astonishingly good in the role of a traumatized man who is afraid to find out the truth. Paz Vega in the role of his Spanish wife is very well chosen too but the most astonishing part is played by Christopher Lee as Elena’s grandfather. A really great role.

The movie has a lot to say about photojournalists who cover wars. The way, they always maintain a certain distance with the help of the camera. That’s a reason, the movie argues, why so many get shot. They simply forget that there really is a war going on around them.

The movie also shows nicely how a trauma can bring on amnesia and trigger symptoms like paralysis. It was very suspenseful and fascinating to see how the truth was uncovered.

Among the many good movies on war and journalism, this is one of the best, one of the most thought-provoking. Fans of Colin Farrell will watch it because of him, those who doubt he is a good actor, may end up being convinced of the contrary.

No Man’s Land (2001) An Outstanding War Satire

Danis Tanovic’s No Man’s Land is without any doubt one of the best war movies I have ever seen. The actors are outstanding, the story is different and manages perfectly to convey the tragic absurdity of war. It also very funny, unless you have never heard of black humor or satire.

The movie starts with a group of Bosnian soldiers on their way to the front, bickering and teasing each other and lost in the darkness and the fog. They try to find the way for a while but it’s useless. After some more bickering and sharing of cigarettes, they stop and go to sleep. Horror on horror, when they wake up they realize they are in between the front lines and very close to the Serbs. The fun is definitely over now and as soon as they start to run, the Serbs open fire. Ciki is catapulted by an explosion into an empty foxhole, in the middle of No Man’s Land.

He hides in the foxhole until two Serbian soldiers arrive to investigate if there are any enemies around. They find Cera, who has also been catapulted into the foxhole and, thinking he is dead, they booby-trap his body.

After a while they finally discover Ciki who shoots one of the two Serbs. Two enemies are now trapped in between their lines, together with a unconscious man, attached to a mine, whose every move could make the thing explode.

What follows is one of the most comic farces I have ever seen. Trapped in between enemy lines, they start to quarrel and fight, all the while the poor Cera moans because he needs to go to the toilet, is uncomfortable and thirsty, wants a fag… Ciki keeps on asking him if he is OK which is, considering the circumstance, in a grotesque way funny as well.

A lot of the humor stems from the dialogue. Although they find themselves in the most dire circumstances they still argue and quarrel like a family at the Sunday dinner table; petty grievances, teasing, sulking, all included. Considering they might end up being killed it’s tragically comic. On top of that, the three are really endearing characters.

The movie also criticizes once more the inefficiency and cynicism of high command and the ultimate uselessness of the UNPROFOR troops who, as usual, aren’t allowed to do anything. On top of that a group of sensation-seeking journalists appears and makes matters worse.

Both camps send people into the foxhole which becomes a sort of neutral zone. Journalists are there, de-mining experts, UN troops and what not. Everybody wants to give their opinion, no one is capable of helping.

If you want to know whether poor Cera will be saved, you will have to watch the movie.

No Man’s Land is outstanding and manages like not many to make a very profound anti-war statement.

One word of caution: Should you just have stopped smoking you shouldn’t watch this movie. I have hardly every seen such a lot of smoking going on in any movie. Even a lifelong non-smoker like myself started to feel a certain urge after a while.

I almost forgot to mention that No Man’s Land is a Bosnia & Herzegovina/FR/IT/Slov/UK/BE co-production.