Children of Sarajevo (aka Djeca): Bosnian Aida Begic Follow-Up to Snow

Cannes Film Fest 2012–Aida Begić, the bright Bosnian filmmaker, won the top prize of the Critics Week series in the 2008 Cannes Film Fest for her debut feature, Snow.

Promoted to the sidebar of Un Certain Regard, Begic has made an interesting, quite disturbing follow-up, “Djeca” (literally meaning “Children”), which she has also written and produced.

Set in the present-day city, in which the terrible past is still felt, the rather loose narrative centers on Rahima (Marija Pikic), a Muslim woman, 23, who works in a restaurant kitchen to provide for the teenage brother, Nedim (Ismir Gagula), 14, who resides with her, but seems to live a double (dangerously criminal) life.  The two siblings are orphans of the bloody Bosnian wars, children whose parent had been killed while fighting for the freedom of their city.

The social institutions treat poorly these children; they don’t know how to handle their specific problems.  We are led to believe that after crime-prone adolescent years, Rahima has found some comfort and peace of mind in Islam, and she now hopes that her brother will follow in her footsteps.

But, alas, the problems just escalate.  Rahima’s decision to begin wearing the headscarf has triggered old tensions, and Nedim is now getting bullied at school by the privileged son of a local politician, after breaking the latter’s mobile phone.

The action is interspersed with fragments of the past,  such as  home-videos of children singing, vivid TV news footage of terrified people fleeing the siege.

The plot is too episodic and fragmented to form a truly coherent and powerful picture.  But, as director, Begic captures the constant tensions and fears of innocent citizens and the disturbing mood of a city haunted by its own past, a transitional society that has lost its moral compass and value system.