Grbavica (Esma's Secret: Grbavica) (2005) 



Director:  Jasmila Zbanic.

Cast:  Mirjana Karanovic (Esma), Luna Mijovic (Sara), Leon Lucev (Pelda), Kenan Catic (Samir), Jasna Beri (Sabina), Dejan Acimovic (Cenga), Bogdan Diklic (Saran), Emir Hadzihafisbegovic (Puska), Ermin Bravo (Profesor Muha), Semka Sokolovic-Bertok (Pelda's Mother), Maike Hhne (Jabolka), Jasna Zalica (Plema), Nada Djurevska (Aunt Safija), Emina Muftic (Vasvija), Dunja Pasic (Mila).

systematic rapes of Bosnian women by Serbian troops has terrible after effects


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

Grbavica, a quarter of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo.  Esma wants to get a job as a cocktail waitress at a dance place, referred to as Aran's place.  She interviews for the job and says that she lives alone.  She gets the job. 

A 12-year old girl named Sara plays soccer at school with the boys on the school playground.  A young fellow keeps bumping into her and she gets angry and starts fighting with the boy.  A male teacher intervenes to stop the discord.  He learns from Sara that her father died fighting for Bosnia; he was a shaheed (i.e., "witness";  a title given posthumously to a Muslim who, in this case, died during a war for Islam).  The teacher tells both disputants that he wants to see their parents. 

Esma pays a visit to her good friend Sabina at her work in a shoe factory.  Sabina tries to get Esma to go the the class reunion.  She says that out of the 41 students there are only 11 left.  Esma takes Sabina's body measurements in order to make a dress for her. 

Sara sees the boy she fought with and he tells her that his father is a shaheed too. 

Esma attends a support group.  The group leader tells the women that there can be no healing without talking.  After the group the group leader gives the women their allotment, which is now less than it was before.  Esma signs for the money.  She buys a trout and cooks it for dinner for her daughter Sara.  (Yes, she lied to the employer.) 

Sara is a tough girl.  She has been deeply affected by the absence of a father and gives her mother a hard time.  Esma slaps her when Sara will not eat the trout she cooked for her.

At work, Esma receives some advice from bar hostess and prostitute Jabolka.  The number one piece of advice is to show her breasts so she can get more tips.  When Jabolka learns that Esma is from Bosnia, she says that being Bosnian is as bad as being Ukranian like her. 

Sabina babysits Sara and Sara gives her a hard time.  She calls her names like "rude old maid" and throws something at her.  At work Jabolka entertains two guys.  For some reason this upsets Esma quite a bit.  Two body guards for Aran offer her a ride.  She declines, but they won't take no for an answer.  The driver seems to like Esma.  He tells her about his experiences doing post-mortem identification looking for his father, who he still has not found.  Esma says she had to do the same, but she found her dad's body.  The man tells her about some mass graves they are digging up.  Esma is tired (and depressed) and wants to just go home to bed.  She excuses herself.  At home when she takes off her blouse, we can see some very long scars on her back as if she had been whipped in the past.   

At school, the teacher reminds Sara that he wants to see her mother.  Sara tells him that her mother can't come; she is very sick;  cancer, you know.  A class trip is coming up and Sara really wants to go.  Those whose father are shaheed can get a certificate that will allow them to go on the class trip for free.  Esma does not have the money to pay for the class trip.  She asks Sara's aunt for the money, but the aunt is barely making ends meet herself. 

The driver and the other body guard run into their old commander, Pu Ka.  They talk about their old enemy, the Chetniks (Serbian paramilitary forces known for their war crimes).  Pu Ka offers the body guards 10 grand each to murder Aran.  The men do not take the job. 

Sara and the young fellow walk together to a bombed-out building.  Back at home Sara demands that her mother promise her that she will never get married.  Esma will not promise this.  Sara says:  "You'll leave me."  Mom tells her that she will never, never, never, never, never leave her.  Mother goes to work while Sara waits for Sabina.  When Sabina arrives Sara will not let her into the house. 

At work Aran gives Esma the job of placing all his bets.  He says she's a lucky charm for him.  Esma takes Jabolka's body measurements to make her an outfit.  Later she talks with the driver.  She says she saw a movie about Brazil and feels very sorry for the Brazilians because their lives are so hard.  Esma goes with the driver to a cafe.  At his home, the driver talks with his mother.  She asks him when she will get her assistance in goods.  She talks mainly about the amount of sugar she will receive. 

Alone Sara and the young fellow talk about their fathers.  A Chetnik killed his father at Zu.  He shows Sara a pistol he has hidden.  She is absolutely ecstatic about the gun.  He lets her shoot it in the abandoned building.  She says she will keep the pistol for him.  He reluctantly agrees. 

Esma walks in the snow under Sabina's umbrella.  Sabina tells her that Sara has been acting weird and starts giving examples.  Esma gets angry and takes her leave of Sabina.  At home Esma cries as she uses her sewing machine.  She closes the door so Sara won't see her crying.  Sara goes ice skating with her boyfriend.  He gives her a key chain with a large, very red heart.  Back at home, Esma tells her daughter that Sabina complained about her behavior and she is now grounded for five days. 

Esma and her boyfriend have a barbecue at a place that has a great view of Sarajevo.  They kiss for awhile.  At home Sara and mom watch television.  Sara asks her mother:  "Mom, what about the certificate?"  Not receiving a real answer, she keeps repeating the question, but louder each time.  Esma says that she can go on the next class trip. 

At work Esma is tired.  She sees a lot of soldiers in the place.  Esma stares at a soldier fondling Jabolka while they dance.  She gets upset at this and takes a smoke break.  Esma cries again.  In Aran's office with Aran and the two body guards Aran berates Esma for failing to place a bet that would have given him a nice chunk of money.  He starts to browbeat Esma.  The driver intervenes and starts beating Aran.  Esma stops the beating.  She says "You're all animals" and runs out of the place. 

Esma pays another visit to Sabina.  She tells her about her having no money for the class trip.  Sabina immediately starts asking her co-workers for some money.  She keeps asking and asking and she comes back to Esma with the necessary funds.  Next Esma pays a visit to her daughter at school.  The teacher bumps into them and he expresses his condolences for her struggle with her illness (cancer, you know).  Esma is shocked but says nothing to the teacher except thank you.  Later, with a beautiful mosque in the background, Esma slaps her daughter for her deceit.  In the school bathroom, three girls who taunt Sara start up again with her.  They then start leaving, but Sara grabs the last one and manhandles her a little. 

The driver tells Esma that he is leaving.  Esma obviously does not want him to go.  She asks him who will identify his father's body.  Esma then gives a nice big kiss on the mouth.  Sara sees this from the house window and she is not happy about it.   The couple part and Esma goes into her house.  She asks her daughter why she is not at school.  Sara starts demanding over and over that her mother tell her about her father and she better not tell lie.  Then Sara goes too far when she says that her mother does not even know who is the father.  Esma gives her daughter a very hard slap and leaves the room.  Sara gets the pistol and points it directly at her mother.  She wants to know right now about her father.  Esma becomes enraged.  Ignoring the pistol, she just starts slapping her daughter with her two hands and Sara drops the pistol.  Esma says over and over "You want to know the truth."   She continues to slap her while she tells her the truth:  "They raped me in the prisoner of war camp.  You're a Chetnik bastard."  Sara cries throughout the assault and after the attack. 

Esma speaks at her support group of women raped during the Bosnian-Serbian war.  She tells about her problems with her daughter; how her daughter asked her to know all about her father and especially her conception and birth; and what she told her and what she did to her daughter.  She also tells how the Chetniks would comes in twos or threes to rape her every day.  At first she did not want her baby, but she did agree to breast-feed her just once.  But once she had the baby girl in her arms she fell in love.  Esma is very sad and depressed and cries while telling her story.  Most of the women in the room also cry.  (At home Sara uses an electric razor to shave off all her hair.)

Esma and Sara (with a blue head band around her shaved head) walk to the school bus.  Sara is going on the class trip.  She is still a bit shaken by recent events and is pensive on the bus.  Her classmates start to sing a song about Sarajevo.  She finally smiles and starts singing with her mates. 


Good movie.  I had mentioned to my wife that thousands and thousands of Bosnian women were raped by the Serbs as a deliberate policy to destroy their spirits and to take revenge for Bosnia trying to separate from Serbia.  So she suspected Esma's secret, but I did not put the two things together and was shocked at the secret.  So the revelation scene was an especially powerful one for me.   Wow!  The film kept us interested throughout and we really sympathized with the two main characters having to live very tough lives in war-torn Bosnia.  Yes, wars go on and on in the heads of those harmed mentally by the conflict and go on and on in and amongst the families, friends and co-workers of the damaged ones.  Mirjana Karanovic as Esma and Luna Mijovic as Sara were both fantastic. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

Historical Background:


See Harrison's Flowers (2000)



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