By Carlos Aguilar | SydneysBuzz November 20, 2013 at 8:16PM
Halima's Path, Croatia's Submission for the Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.
U.S. : None Yet. International Sales Agent: House of Film
Inherent to all armed conflicts across the world and throughout history are the numerous unresolved casualties in which families, specifically mothers, do not have a place to cry for their children because the body of the loved one has never been recovered. Their quest becomes not one in hopes of seeing their loved ones alive once more, but one to have something tangible to grieve and honor the fallen. Croatian director Arsen A. Ostojic follows the story of one of those mothers who searches for the remains of her husband and son after the Bosnian war. However, his plot, penned by Fedja Isovic, goes beyond the evident stirring reaction a story like this can provoke, but continues beyond with several twists and skeletons in the closet, progressing from a family's past which gives Halima's Path a premise even more captivating to follow.
Running through the gloomy night, Muslim teenager Safija (Olga Pakalovic) arrives at her aunt Halima's (Alma Prica) house in 1977 asking for help as she has just discovered she is pregnant by her Christian boyfriend Slavomir (Mijo Jurisic). Scorned by her father, Safija decides to give her child to infertile Halima for her and her husband Salko (Izudin Bajrovic) to raise. Twenty-three years later, and after the Bosnian war is finally over, strong-willed and determined Halima is now pursuing a heartbreaking mission; she must find whatever is left of Mizra, the son she adopted as her own and who was taken by Christian soldiers when he was a teenage boy along with her husband Salko. Her DNA helped her find her late husband’s scattered bones, but in order to consummate her goal and find closure in her son's case, she must obtain a blood sample from her son’s biological mother.
Based on true events, Ostojic’s account reveals itself slowly as it is told going between the initial time before the bloodshed, the night when Mizra was abducted, and the present day where Halima’s struggles to find answers. Safija, now older and with three daughters, resides in a remote town in what was designated as the Serbian side after the conflict. She still lives with Slavomir, who returned from Germany to be with her, but got caught up fighting for the Serbian side and is now an inveterate alcoholic who drinks to forget the atrocities he witnessed and took part in. Furthermore, and certainly more problematic, is the fact that he has lived believing the son which Safija was expecting had died at birth. On the other hand, visibly tormented by uncertainty, self-assured Halima finds comfort in knitting sweaters for a son who will never wear them, and also by spending time with her nephew Aaron, who grew up with Mizra and is virtually the same age.
Eventually, all the distorted truths come into light as Halima sets the plot in motion when she approaches Safija and discloses her plight. Visually proficient at distinguishing the many moods the characters endure in a span of three decades, the film is successful at elevating the war genre by delving into the collateral sequels of the deplorable slaughter that took place in the Balkan territory. Alma Prica is enthralling as the underrated mother who will stop at nothing to kiss her child goodbye, and as the climatic sequence of her journey progresses, it is hard to hold back one’s tears at the sight of such a heart-wrenching performance.
Besides being a poignant story of perseverance, the filmmaker’s elaborate narrative contains subdued undertones of darkness that manifest the damage inflicted by the carnage, not only bodily but also the spiritual damage. Slavomir cannot cope with the past; he is persecuted by the demons of his crimes which effectively contrasts with Halima’s optimistic resolution. Together their experiences paint a multilayered mural of what the religious and cultural divide destroyed. Ostojic is more than familiar with the region and its subtleties, their predicaments and family dynamics, and that very insight is what makes Halima’s Path, an unforgettably moving and important film.