A new spin on the old biblical story of The Good Samaritan, MY BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY delicately explores a tentative romance between a young Serbian widow and a wounded Albanian soldier against the backdrop of the 1999 Kosovo War. Whilst there may not be anything dramtically fresh or new in Michaela Kezele’s film, it does wield plenty of emotional heft in its focus on a forbidden romance and the unforeseen consequences of helping someone who has suddenly become the enemy. It also attempts to raise awareness (none too subtly) of the use of depleted uranium ammunition by NATO in the conflict, through a sub-plot centred on children’s wartime experiences.
The film highlights the frightening social divisions enforced by the conflict between different ethnic groups living in the same community. Neighbour is set against neighbour, Serb against Albanian, Christian against Muslim. A tense stand-off between three fleeing Albanians and a sadistic Serb army officer kicks things off in high gear, before slowing down to concentrate on one of the three Albanians, Ramiz (Misel Maticevic) who is critically injured but manages to make it to the Serb controlled side of a town divided by a river; a natural divide which has led the population to become ethnically segregated on either side.
never quite allays the suspicion that this is an ‘issues’ driven drama
Seeking refuge in the home of war widow Danica (Zrinka Cvitesic) and her two boys, Ramiz is gradually nursed back to health by the young mother, and the two start develop feelings for one another. But matters are complicated by an interfering neighbour and the NATO bombings, which threaten not only their lives but also those of the town’s children, who begin to suffer the after-effects of the poisoned NATO ammunition.
Kezele tries to raise this controversial issue by weaving it in to the overall narrative, with mixed results; though it drives the story forward in the final, quite moving act, it never quite allays the suspicion that this is an ‘issues’ driven drama, with the plot built to support the point the director really wants to make. The closing credits includes an onscreen message which confirms this feeling. But that isn’t to say the point isn’t worth making, or that the secretive romantic drama doesn’t draw you in; on the contrary, as portrayed by Maticevic and Cvitesic, the two leads strike up a gentle chemistry that permeates the rest of the film, smoothing over narrative contrivances despite the fact it’s been done many times before.
Similarly, in a SHANE-like way, Ramiz bonds with Danica’s youngest son, who hasn’t uttered a word since the death of his father a year earlier. His mother’s efforts to get him talking again by joining the school choir have no effect, but the new father-figure in his life begins to bring the boy out of his shell. The older son however resents his intrusion in to his family’s life, and is more concerned about buying himself the new bike promised to him by his late father, making matters even more complicated. The family’s struggle to stay together in the face of political and personal upheavals brought about by war keeps the film emotionally compelling, even as it covers overly familiar territory.