Directed by Fernando León de Aranoa
War is hell. I don’t think anyone but businessmen or neo-nazis could disagree with that, but rather than soldiers fighting, or civilians struggling to survive, this film focuses on the aid-workers that inevitably need to make their way into war-zones to help in any way they can.
The story is nothing special, but that is the point. All the workers want is some rope so they can pull a corpse out of a well, as it is an important water source and a corpse is obviously not good for drinking water. But time after time they jump through hoops only to be lead down many dead ends.
This simple story isn’t important; it could be rope, or anything remotely useful or worth money – anything hard to obtain in a war-torn country. The film’s point is made by the situations that these workers have to deal with, including UN oversight that doesn’t make matters any easier. Mines are also a problem, both for the workers’ safety but also because any area that is mined is to be under UN jurisdiction. These aid-workers though have their own way of handling things.
Make no mistake, this is a slow movie. Impatient viewers will be bored senseless, but persevering will reward, as this is an excellent black comedy on top of the social commentary; there are many, many funny moments that seem far out of place in a war-zone, which is why the humour works as well as it does. Most of this is due to the well-written script. Despite the laughs though, this film does seem to move along at a slug’s pace at times.
Leading the group of aid workers is Mambrú, played by an understated Benicio Del Toro. The other main aid-worker is B, played excellently by Tim Robbins. He is quite the character and is in the middle of most of the funny moments. Feđa Štukan (who I thought was Adrien Brody for the entire movie) is excellent as a translator for the aid-workers. His work mirrors our current society, as many war veterans from recent Middle-Eastern conflicts will testify to how important good translation is. Mélanie Thierry acts as the moral compass of the film; she is inexperienced in the field and takes exception to many of B and Mambrú’s actions, as well as their attitude, as they have been hardened by the stress of the job and have established their own style and approach to their work.
Unfortunately, a love interest in the form of the beautiful Olga Kurylenko comes into play for no real reason, and is a wasted character. As soon as she appears it is hard to make out why she is in a war-torn country, while also conveniently being a former flame of Mambrú. The film would have been better off without this character entirely, as there are few moments where her character matters in any way.
While it is far from perfection, this film gives us an interesting glimpse into the plight of aid-workers in a war-zone. In this case it is the Balkans in the 1990’s, but the obstacles that are thrown at the workers can easily apply to the many conflicts occurring around the world at this very second. The film may have a message, but it doesn’t shove it down your throat. The humour is very effective in this regard, as the movie feels neutral, simply capturing what these workers are forced to deal with on a daily basis. It is nothing spectacular, but worth a watch for its relevance and humour.
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