No Man's Land

"Behind Enemy Lines" or even "M*A*S*H" pale next to this Cannes winner for best screenplay...

The struggle in the former Yugoslavia in 1993 never looked clearer or more devastating than in this little morality play of a movie called "No Man's Land." Serbs and Croats find themselves caught in a dilemma -— a soldier lies on a bouncing bomb; when he moves, it will explode. In comes the UN to attempt to rescue everyone, spouting inanities about the peace process when peace is an absurdity put in relief by the current puzzle.

The press is mercilessly savaged for being as self-serving as the warring factions. When the reporter asks, while the camera whirs away, how one of the 3 soldiers in the booby-trapped trench feels, he gives her a raised digit. It’s a mild rebuke considering she just exclaimed about the absurdity of war.

Cinematography and set design are subdued. For a film, it is surprisingly stagy, yet that effect heightens the real war of ideas like who started it all and who cares about just one man. The doomed soldier holds a family photo unaware that to do so in the movies is to invite danger. It’s funny and harrowing at the same time.

"No Man's Land" is closer to "Three Kings" than it is to "Waiting for Godot" because its humor is purposely gallows-like and less existential. Yet when the camera pulls away at the end, you can be sure you have just watched the best film of the absurd for the 21st century. "Behind Enemy Lines" or even "M*A*S*H" pale next to this Cannes winner for best screenplay.