Director: Daniel Calparsoro.
Starring: Eloy Azorín (Soldado Vidal), Eduardo Noriega (Teniente Alonso), Rubén Ochandiano (Sargento Rubio), Carla Perez (Soldado Balbuena), Jordi Vilches (Cabo 1º Ballesteros), Roger Casamajor (Soldado Lucas), IZaki Font (Soldado Gómez), Sandra Wahlbeck (Mónica), Olivier Sitruk (Soldado Marceau), Blerim Gjoci (Lider Albanés), Stefan Elbaum (Teniente Blanchard), César Martínez (Campesino), Arsenio Luna (Jefe Albano), Fernando Jiménez (Oficial Serbio), Roman Luknár (Oficial Serbio).
Spanish soldiers at war in Kosovo in 2000
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
It's at the end of the year 1999. The Serbian army has abandoned the Balkan province of Kosovo. A multi-national force has been placed in Kosovo. Their task is to keep the peace; reconstruct the province; and disarm the local guerillas. Spain has sent troops to the Serbian border to an area known as the Exclusion Zone. Serbian paramilitaries make violent incursions into the zone to get at the Kosovar population.
The Kosovar Village of Ruica. Serbian paramilitaries make a raid on the village. They blow up the electric utilities and deliberately search out and kill many village residents, as well as any resident they run into. They are clearly engaging in ethnic cleansing.
Jablanica, Serbo-Kosovar village. Spanish Saper Division. The Spanish soldiers are working on a church. Private Vidal notices that some Serbian paramilitaries have grabbed a village resident and dragged him away. Vidal wants to do something about it, but his comrades and his sergeants tell him to "cut it out" -- "get back to work" -- "You'll get us all in trouble." But Vidal can't help himself. He grabs his helmet and weapon and charges after the men. He enters a house where they are hiding the victim. He sees two men dead and then he sees the paramilitaries killing the captive by putting a plastic bag over his head. But Vidal doesn't fire his weapon and he is knocked down by the leader of the paramilitaries, who then take off. The Spanish squad arrives, but the captive is dead already.
Vidal has to speak to the Lieutenant, who tells him he has committed an inappropriate intervention. Vidal answers with "So, why are we here?" A very good question which deserves an honest answer. Instead of giving an honest answer, the Lieutenant calls Vidal a "social climber." The Lieutenant adds that normally he would have to send him home, but that he was going to keep him around for at least a bit longer.
Back at the bunks, Vidal's buddies start to beat him. The female soldier Balbuena tries to stop them, but is unsuccessful. The top sergeant intervenes to stop the beating. They have orders to go to Ruica to restore electricity. The squad travels in a convoy to the Exclusion Zone. On their way they pass Serbian refugees who pelt them with rocks and beat their vehicles with sticks.
On their way they are stopped by a group of Albanians. The Serbians have taken their village and so now they are camping on the road and hillside. The Albanians are well-armed in a zone where weapons are not allowed. The ranking officer, a French commander, is insistent that the Albanians give up their arms. (Now this is very fool-hardy as the multi-force is greatly outnumbered and out-gunned by the Albanians.) The Lieutenant tells the French officer: "You are provoking them." The Lieutenant tells his entire squad to get out to the front of the convoy in case of trouble. (Now this was silly because he pulled out the drivers and the radioman.) The situation escalates to the point where the two forces are pointing their automatic weapons at each other. Suddenly, another Frenchman fires a shot and all hell breaks out. The Spanish take 12 casualties. The French commander is killed. A small group from the unit manages to escape from the shoot-out, but they have no medical gear and no radio. They are stranded and will have to walk out. (Of course, no one wonders where the convoy is and so no one comes looking for the squad!)
They run into some Serbian paramilitaries and they escape across an open field only to discover the hard way that the field has been mined. The female translator loses a leg and is badly wounded on her right side. She lays out in the field screaming. They finally send Vidal out to check on her. Seeing he can do nothing for her, he holds his hand over her mouth and nose and she suffocates to death.
There is some open talk in the group that the Lieutenant is clueless and that someone else should take over command, but Vidal reports that a village is no more than five kilometers away. Instead of studying the village before heading into it, the squad simply marches up main street. They soon are captured by the Serbian paramilitaries. Balbuena is gang-raped by the Serbians. A few of them (Vidal, Balbuena, the Lieutenant, Ballesteros and another soldier) manage to escape when the Albanians invade the village and push out the Serbians.
The Lieutenant and Ballesteros are nabbed by the Albanians, but all they want is for the two Spaniards to fix their electricity. Much relieved, the Spaniards get to work on the task. Meanwhile, the other three soldiers kill a number of people in order to complete their escape. But as they march back into the village to look for their two comrades, the lights come on and they are surrounded by the Albanians. Both sides point their weapons at each other. The Albanian leader intervenes in this tense situation and brings out the Lieutenant and Ballesteros. Vidal and his buddies finally realize that they are safe and can now go home.
My wife and I liked the movie very much. It kept us riveted to the screen. In a way, it was like a good horror movie, keeping you shouting at the screen that the characters are making a mistake or complaining about the stupidity of their actions. The saddest part about the whole story was the limited freedom of action allowed to the soldiers of the multi-force. They were so limited in what they could do that they were used as maintenance and repair workers instead of as soldiers. The soldiers could not effectively protect the victims of ethnic cleansing from being killed because of this.
The world, especially the US, has to get to the point that they can trust their multi-national forces enough so that they can protect peoples from ethnic cleansing. There have been two many cases of genocide to feel confident about the ability of the United Nations (really the nations of the world) to enforce a ban on genocide and ethnic cleansing.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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