Sensitive, unpretentious, and populated with characters we never get to know as intimately as we might wish, Grbavica: Land of My Dreams contains hints of effective minor drama but instead stops short at stock situations and the most rudimentary of narrative devices. Set in the titular Sarajevo neighborhood, once the location of Bosnian War atrocities, the feature debut of filmmaker Jasmila Zbanic traces the trauma wrought on single mother Esma (Mirjana Karanovic) and literally passed down to 12-year-old daughter Sara (Luna Mijovic). Esma attempts to balance working at a mafia-associated nightclub and attending group therapy for war victims with her maternal availability to a rambunctious tomboy in the throes of identity crisis: called upon by school to provide evidence of her father’s military service as a martyred shaheed, Sara’s at first selfishly motivated quest to learn her family’s history digs up torturous discoveries.
But Grbavica’s simplistically wrenching revelations, ostensibly meant to signal character growth, consign more interesting subplots and role players (Esma’s equally scarred suitor, Sara’s wannabe gangster boyfriend) to the dustbin when they could’ve been expanded and better understood. Grbavica fails to move as an account of survivor’s shame and fortitude; it’s a novel forced into novella form.
Opens February 16 at Film Forum