Kinoeye: New perspectives on European film

Vol 3
 Issue 5 
10 May

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Rolando Colla's Oltre il confine (Across the Border, 2002) ITALY
Not just a Bosnian war epic
Rolando Colla's Oltre il confine (Across the Border, 2002)

Bosnia's name is synonymous with internecine war. In this context, is it possible to make a contemporary film in the country which goes beyond simple bloodshed?. Elke de Wit talks to an Italian director who has tried to make a war film that, paradoxically, does just that.

Within the first ten minutes of Oltre il confine it is obvious that this is not a straightforward tale about either a war-torn Bosnia or victimised Bosnians. The central character is the Italian architect Agnese (Anna Galiena). Her dying Second World War veteran father, Carlo (Giuliano Persico), is in a hospital/rest home for elderly military men. One night Reuf (Senad Basic) the Bosnian friend of the Italian doctor Nardelli (Gianluca Gobbi) offers to take care of the dying father. The two men from culturally different backgrounds and different age-groups swap stories about their lives and show each other photographs of their loved ones. Reuf agrees to take Carlo "for a walk" which turns into a carefree run around the grounds of the hospital with Reuf pushing Carlo in a wheelbarrow. Unfortunately this escapade ends with Reuf being arrested (he has illegally entered Italy with the help of his friend the doctor), and thus starts the complicated interweaving of the Bosnian connection.

Rolando Colla's Oltre il confine (Across the Border, 2002)Colla cleverly establishes right at the very beginning that these two men and their stories are connected. Their children are connected, although they have lived through entirely different wars (the Second World War and the Serbian/Bosnian conflict). They are linked across cultures, across religions, across generations. Colla uses Agnese, as the central figure in his plot, he sees the other characters as the engines that drive her and it is through her that we see that the main theme of Colla's feature.

Kinoeye met Colla at the 14th Trieste Film Festival, where the film was the opening feature. Colla explained that the film is about

"...the experience of war with all the dramatic and unresolved effects it can have on peoples' lives. People tend to want to quickly forget and repress these experiences with all their dramatic and unresolved implications rather than to consciously and collectively deal with them. I have the feeling that this has always been the case, for example after the Second World War in Italy people very quickly got on with their lives without any attempt at coming to terms with these events.
Nobody really bothered to try to find out how those returning from the war were feeling, not to mention how the war had affected the children who had grown up during that period. This whole scenario is to my mind repeating itself in Bosnia now. People try to avoid talking about their experiences during the war as much as possible. I think that in the long term this is fatal because it can lead to everything repeating itself. There is too little consciousness about how much has been destroyed. I think it's unbelievable, how even in Serbia, vigorous efforts are made not to confront the issue of guilt. I think it's bewildering that people try to glorify this war and to justify their own nationalism...

Although Colla has used the topic of war as a framework, it merely seems a vehicle for his story which focuses on the pain and inability of the characters to talk about how they feel. This provides the film with its psychological depth. Colla elaborates:

War destroys people, my film is not a film about soldiers or special effects – it is more on a wavelength with Michael Winterbottom's Welcome to Sarajevo. I try not to give too much of a positive image to any of the protagonists, not the Croatians, not the Serbs not the Muslims not the Christians. The main subject of my film is repression, i.e. the inability to talk about that which has had a lasting affect on the development of your character.

It is this preoccupation of the director that makes Oltre il confine not simply a film about war. It may seem contradictory to say this, but the protagonists try to resolve the psychological pain Colla illustrates, resulting in the viewer also being predominantly occupied with the relationships between the characters, rather than being aware that this is a "war film."

Colla, initially working on the script alone, stumbled on this approach almost by accident:

The basic idea was the story of a father coming back to Italy from the Russian campaign after the Second World War. I wanted to tell the story of the relationship between the little girl and father. I already had the money in place for this feature when I started to read [Luca] Rastello's book which described how he brought 400 Bosnian refugees to Italy as a private initiative. The idea occurred to me to mix the two stories.

Thus Colla contacted Rastello. Together they visited Bosnia several times where Rastello introduced Colla to Bosnians whom he had met or been in touch with, as well as Bosnians who are now living in Italy. They eventually co-wrote the script for Oltre il confine .

The Bosnian actors were all chosen from casting sessions in Bosnia and had all lived through the war. I asked what it was like working with actors recreating a very painful time in their history when they must be trying to move on from it now.

To start with, the actors saw participating in my film as an opportunity to work. They did not realise that they might be doing something really important for themselves, but later when they watched the film, they had really strong emotions. During the screening in Sarajevo, people were crying, it was really hard. It seemed to me to be most difficult for Mima (Ajla Frljuckić). She lives in Sarajevo and lived there during the siege as a teenager. I wanted to have her playing someone really fragile, so she had to be in this mood more or less during the whole of the shoot. But she could cry for five or six hours without any problems. I often said to her "You don't have to start now, because we are not ready to shoot," and she said "I am just preparing, it's not a problem," and I said to her "No please stop now, because you will not have any liquid later." She could actually start crying in 20 seconds without any problems, it was very difficult because you want to protect her and at the same time you feel that it is something that you want to show.

The director, Rollando Colla
The director, Rolando Colla
As well as having a partially Bosnian cast, Oltre il confine used location shooting in Sarajevo and was a Bosnian co-production. Although there have been several recent films set in Bosnia, few of them have had a co-producer from the country. (The Oscar-winning No Man's Land was internationally financed and shot in Slovenia, the American feature Behind Enemy Lines was shot in Slovakia and Welcome to Sarajevo was shot on in Bosnia but without any co-production input.) Moreover, the Bosnian government has previously not been proactive in promoting domestic feature production. Colla, though, saw working with the Bosnians as essential, despite the huge disadvantages:

The production company in Sarajevo helped us with all the permits, as it is still a quite difficult to film in Bosnia. You have to be accompanied by police all the time and everything has to be organised by them. We had to pay for everything, the police everything, we had to pay and pay and pay and pay and pay but right from the beginning it was evident that there was a lot of corruption in Bosnia. It was clear that they could come to us at any time and say now you can't do this or we don't have that, you must pay more. We decided that it was in our best interest to use a Bosnian-based production company. Before we negotiated the agreement with them, we made a pretty accurate calculation of how much it would cost to shoot our film in Bosnia. We said, "this is the amount of money we can give you, not more and if it is not enough once we go over budget we will share the costs 50/50." That was a clever agreement.

Some of the shoot took place in Mostar, famous for particularly bloody battles between Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats. Expanding on the dangers of filming in the country, Colla stated:

We were certainly not completely free to do whatever we wanted. The country is not that stable, and a lot of the countryside still has mines so you can't just go out and film anywhere you like, it's really hazardous! I wanted to go to areas where they told me it was too dangerous as there were still people around with guns shooting even now. But I'm happy to have shot in Bosnia as you can feel the authenticity in the film.

Rolando Colla is a man of many allegiances it seems. Of Italian heritage, he grew up in Switzerland. He speaks fluent Italian, German, French and English. Although physically he looks like a man who doesn't talk much and prefers his own company, once he broaches the issues of immigration, nationality, war and repression, he seems like a man with a mission. Persuasively he looks you directly in the eye hoping to convince you of his intentions as a film-maker, and one suspects the one thing he truly wishes to achieve with this film is that we should not forget the effects of war. We should not repress, we should talk to one another as fellow humans as this is what we truly share. Colla is a true European in his outlook, putting what we have in common before our cultural, religious, national differences. And this is what is portrayed in Oltre il confine.

Elke de Wit

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About the author

Elke de Wit is a freelance journalist and actor, living in London.

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