The last film I saw in 2006 was Esma’s Secret (Grbavica).
Esma is a single mother living with her daughter Sara. A Bosnian, she came from the Grbavica district of Sarajevo. The scars on her back suggest suffering during the war.
Sara is in her early teens, a tomboy, and needs to pay for her upcoming school trip. As the daughter of a shaheed (a soldier lost in conflict), she is entitled to a discount., But her mother seems reluctant to find the official papers to prove their exact circumstance ... Esma’s secret. Instead she throws herself into a new job in a local bar, alongside some dressmaking, to raise the cash.
Esma has a story locked up inside her. She attends women’s meetings—state-funded group counselling sessions at the local community hall—but doesn’t open up.
Sarajevo is full of those “left behind”, remaining to try to identify the bodies of their loved ones when the next mass grave is discovered. It’s a violent society. And a country portrayed as being still full of hurt, the continuing scars of conflict (that are quite obvious in NI too).
At the end of the film, don’t worry, it’s not really a spoiler, Esma opens up and tells her story to the other women. But secrets carry a price. And is her decision to tell her secret too late for Sara?
It feels like a low budget (cheaply made) film. That’s not a criticism, just a perception. The wide screen felt more 16:9 than the usual letterbox cinematic fare. Yet there are still great shots throughout the film. And the cast’s colourful clothes really stand out in contrast to the bombed shells of buildings in the background.
The film felt like it had been built up too much in the Curzon programme, though it did win a Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival. Good acting by Esma and Sara. Let down by the ending happening too fast.
But watch out for the school teacher who looks like Borat! And watch out for the Kiera Knightly poster in Sara’s bedroom: seems there’s no escaping the Pirates of the Caribbean.