Ruveyda comforts her father as he weeps
Jonathan Knott talks to the director of new film Belvedere about the lasting impact of the film, the importance of telling war stories and how art imitates life

The sheer scale of genocide can make it difficult to comprehend.  But one scene in Bosnian film Belvedere makes its human impact clear: a woman, Ruveyda, takes the bus to a DNA testing centre where she hopes her missing relatives will be identified among the remains exhumed from a mass grave.  As analysts remove skeletons from plastic bags, rinse the mud off, and saw into the bones, she reads a list to the official: “Alen Salihovic, 1984, son. Hasan Salihovic, 1952, husband. Osman Kustura, 1939, father. Zaim Maslo, 1947, brother-in-law. Edin Maslo, 1978, Samir Maslo, 1980, nephews.”

It’s a brutal illustration of the continuing devastation that was wrought on 11 July 1995, when Bosnian Serb forces overran the UN “safe area” in the town of Srebrenica near the Serbian border and killed 8,000 Bosniac (Bosnian Muslim) men and boys.

The Srebrenica massacre was the largest atrocity committed during the Yugoslav wars of the nineties – though far from the only one. And although the arrests this year of Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic completed the Hague tribunal’s list of those indicted for war crimes – prompting commentary that the area is finally moving on from its bloody recent history – many in Bosnia feel that the reconciliation with the past remains superficial.

They have finally captured these people because it is necessary for Serbia to join the EU. But a lot of Serbs still view Mladic as a hero,’ Ahmed Imamovic, the writer and director of Belvedere, told PORT.

Few feature films have previously covered Srebrenica, and Belvedere is the first to directly confront its aftermath in Bosnia. Underlining the questions remaining unanswered, it depicts the lives of a family of survivors: while Ruveyda and her sister make futile trips from their refugee camp to the DNA identification centre and mass graves, their alcoholic brother (who has lost his wife, a child, and both of his legs) stays at home, sporadically sending his young son running to the shop for beer. Most unbearable for the family,
Ruveyda walks through the pouring rain

though, is the knowledge that one Serb responsible for their suffering lives nearby in comfortable impunity.
“He stood a metre from me, ordering whom to take where,” recalls Ruveyda, but the chances of him meeting justice seem remote. When he sees Ruveyda outside his house, he tells her to “fuck off”, calls the police, and gets a restraining order placed on her.

The character may be fictional, but the situation echoes reality, says Midhat Mujkic, who edited the film:

The senior commanders have been arrested, but the majority of those guilty are living free and enjoying themselves. Some of them are even working for the government in Sarajevo, in offices next to people whose families were killed.”

Filmed almost exclusively in black and white, the overriding impression ofBelvedere is of a desperate situation still waiting to be addressed. But at the same time, some are impatient to move on. “Just drop your wartime stories, it’s all over,” says Ruveyda’s nephew Ado at one point in frustration. He becomes a contestant on the Serbian Big Brother, and the only colour scenes are those from the TV show, where the trivial concerns of the housemates (some of whom have a fondness for the “turbo-folk” music associated with Serbian nationalism) are interspersed glaringly with the ongoing tragedy outside. Imamovic believes that Ado’s attitude is typical, especially among the young. “I think young people like these reality shows because they can see little real hope for the future,” he says.

Supporting this contention, it’s clear that the tendency in the region for Yugo-nostalgia – looking back fondly to the former communist regime – is by no means limited to a wistful older generation. One of the most popular bars among young, hip residents

of Sarajevo is called Caffe Tito, featuring photographs and memorabilia of the dictator. The mood isn’t one of irony, but of genuine regret for the passing of a society that, despite its flaws, was more cosmopolitan, peaceful and prosperous than their present one.

I do not think that my movie will change the world,” says Imamovic. “But as an artist, I have to be engaged with these issues. If we want to move on, we need to tell all the stories about war crimes. All the guilty people must go to court.”

The war has been a consistent theme for the director. 10 minutes (best European short film, 2002) was about the siege of Sarajevo, and Go West (2005) about a gay couple – a Bosniac and a Serb – during the conflict.
An affectionate gesture: Ruveyda’s father and sonPersonally affected by the war (his mother lost a leg), he has also sought to build the experience of the Srebrenica survivors into the filmmaking process. He was in close contact with them while writing the screenplay, and they also appear as extras – including during documentary footage of a protest which takes place on a bridge over the river Drina at Gorazde on the 11th of each month, where they silently hold a huge sheet bearing the names of the missing. The film also uses original poetry by the Bosnian writer Abdulah Sidran to convey Ruveyda’s internal voice, its lyricism contrasting sharply with the grim routine of her daily life. It was Sidran who first showed Imamovic the real-life Italian-sponsored refugee camp which gives the film its name. The clunking inappropriateness of calling it “Belvedere” (which, meaning “beautiful view”, seems more suited to a Tuscan villa) is suggestive of the gulf between the seems more suited to a Tuscan villa) is suggestive of the gulf between the official narrative of progress, and the bitter anger that persists.

“It was very strange for me,” says Imamovic. “I could not believe that there was a camp with this name. It is tragically funny. Only the view is beautiful. Everything else at that place is very, very ugly.”