Hot Docs 2014: Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo (John Zaritsky)

2014_hotdocs_stock_imageAs part of the retrospective on John Zaritsky, the Canadian Documentarian, there were screenings of some of his films, and I was fortunate enough to make it in to a presentation of his 1994 film, Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo.

This film is stunning and heartbreaking, though age hasn’t necessarily been kind to the format it was shot on.

When two bodies, arms wrapped around one another, are left on a bridge in no man’s land trying to cross over into Sarajevo, one, a Serbian man, and the other a Muslim woman. The world was stunned, who were these two lovers from these warring cultures?

Zaritsky decided to find out.

Through a gorgeous compilation of interviews, letters, pictures, we learn about Admira and her boyfriend Bosko. We watch and learn about a love that surpassed religion, that united their families, and ultimately placed them in harm’s way.

There are betrayals, there are shady characters who do the right thing, there is blame for all, and a terrifying look at the civil war that tore down a nation, and pierced its heart with a sniper’s round.

Watching and hearing their love story come to life, knowing its tragic end, does nothing to quell the emotions that stir up in the viewer, as we get a glimpse at young love and lives that were brought to quickly to a tragic end.

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It’s simply heartbreaking to watch and learn about these two young lovers who find one another, and then as they start pursuing a life together, their country descends into war brought on by religious hatred, and age-old grievances.

Through following and telling this story, Zaritsky put a human face not only on these two young lovers, whose bodies were left for days on a bridge while fingers on both sides pointed accusingly, it also puts a very real price on the cost of war.

There is footage of city blocks being blown apart, of lives snuffed out, as this civil war waged, and I found myself terrifyingly wondering how our city, our country, this continent, would look, if  it were savaged by a war. All those lives.

The film is beautifully made and its story, 20 years old now, is still relevant, and shows that people of different races and cultures can love one another.

I haven’t had the opportunity to see Zaritsky’s other three films screening at the festival, but after seeing this one, and the deft touch with which he handles the subject, I’ll be hunting down the rest of his filmography.

Have you seen any of his films?

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