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Esma’s Secret (Grbavica) 
Written by: on December 16th, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: 12 February 2006 (Germany, Berlin Film Festival), 13 September 2006 (Canada, Toronto Film Festival), 15 December 2006 (UK)
Approximate running time: 90mins
Aspect ratio (Video format): Widescreen
Language: Serbo-Croatian

Director: Jasmila Zbaniæ
Screenplay: Jasmila Zbaniæ
Cinematography: Christine A. Maier
Cast: Mirjana Karanoviæ, Luna Mijoviæ, Leon Luèev, Kenan Katiæ, Jasna Beri, Dejan Acimoviæ

(BBFC Certificate: 15. Contains strong language, nudity and some violence.)

This year’s Golden Bear winner is a multi-layered masterpiece from Bosnian female director Jasmila Zbaniæ. Set in Sarajevo in the depressing and painful aftermath of the Balkan War, the story revolves around single mother Esma (Mirjana Karanoviæ) and her troublesome teenage daughter Sara (Luna Mijoviæ). In a time and place where people are struggling to earn a living, Esma gets a job as waitress at a tacky bar run by crooks. It is the kind of nightspot where the waitresses are told they get better tip if they show off their tits to the boozing customers. In her spare time Esma attends a therapy class for war-related widows.

Sara is looking forward to the school trip, which costs money, but learns she could get a discount since her dead father presumably was a war hero, a front soldier killed in action. She asks her mother to apply for the certificate that shows the heroic status of the father, but Esma keeps avoiding the point. Esma’s secret – or rather her burden – is eventually taking its toll on her mental stability.

Director Zbaniæ – here in her debut feature – has discovered the power of the long take, and traces of the cinematic heritage from Theodoros Angelopoulos can be seen in that respect, especially in the drawn-out panning shots in the therapy sessions. Mirjana Karanoviæ, a Best Actress nominee at the European Film Awards, is phenomenal in the role as Esma. She literally carries the film on her shoulders. The art of cinema never fails to amaze and whenever a great acting talent as Karanoviæ comes along it is a sheer pleasure to be in the audience. Luna Mijoviæ as the daughter is exceptionally good as well.

The most hilarious scenes in the movie must be the depictions of the decadence and depravity in the bar (on the dance floor, among the drinkers at the tables, as well as back stage in the locker room) and you might be wondering what Luchino Visconti could have gutted out of this material. As a viewer you get a complex range of feelings and above all, there is a moment of contemplation when you ask yourself questions about what it is that drives us forward in this grim world we are living in, and what it is we want to live for.

The year is closing in on the end. There are many new films out there of various quality, but if you want to end the year of 2006 on a high, then go out and watch Esma’s Secret.

For more information about this film visit its official website here.

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