Harrison's Flowers (2000)

 

 

 

Director:  Elie Chouraqui.

Starring:   Andie MacDowell (Sarah Lloyd), Elias Koteas (Yeager Pollack), Brendan Gleeson (Marc Stevenson), Adrien Brody (Kyle Morris), David Strathairn (Harrison Lloyd), Alun Armstrong (Samuel Brubeck), Caroline Goodall (Johanna Pollack), Diane Baker (Mary Francis), Marie Trintignant (Cathy), Christian Charmetant (Jeff), Gerard Butler (Chris Kumac, photojournalist), Scott Anton (Cesar Lloyd), Christopher Clarke (David), Dragan Antonic (Chetnik), Marie-Béatrice Bernert (Austrian Woman).

 

Good movie.  Set in Vukovar and vicinity, Croatia in 1991, a woman searches for her photojournalist husband named Harrison in war-torn Yugoslavia after hearing he is missing and presumed dead. The news media originally thought only "skirmishes" were taking place, but were surprised to find full-scale war going on. During the siege of Vukovar, more than 10,000 civilians were killed by the Serbs.

The film is dedicated to the 48 journalists killed in the former Yugoslavia, 1991-1995.

 

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

Sarah Lloyd eats breakfast with her son Cesar and her daughter Margaux.  Dad (Harrison Lloyd) is back home from a long photographic project and he says hello to the kids.  The news of the day is about the thousands of civilian refugees in southern Sudan.  There is no end of the fighting in sight.  Sarah takes the children to school and then she has sex with her husband.  She and her husband work for the same employer, Sam Brubeck. 

Harrison speaks with Sam about quitting as an international photographer.  He says he used to be calm; he wasn't afraid of anything.  But now all he thinks about is Sarah and the kids.  He says he will stick it out for awhile, but not for too long.  At home Harrison is having trouble with his son Cesar.  When he tries to talk to Cesar the lad clams up.  Sarah tells him it's because he is always away.

Sarah and Harrison attend a Pulitzer Prize dinner.  The recipient of the award is Harrison's friend Yaeger Pollack who took the picture of the Chinese student stopping a line of tanks at Tiananmen Square.  Harrison introduces Yaeger to the audience.  Another photographer, Kyle Morris, walks out on the award presentation.  Harrison runs into Kyle in the men's room.  Kyle is upset with the top guys of the world of news photography.  He says he knows a little guy who died.  He died in Yugoslavia.  He had to spend his own money to get there and still no one would used his pictures.  Harrison tells the man to calm down.  After the presentations many of the photographers and their spouses go to a restaurant for a big celebration. 

At home Sarah tells her husband, who is working in the greenhouse on his great flower collection, that Sam called.  Harrison speaks with Sam and learns that he is to be sent to Yugoslavia.  He will be going to Graz.  Sarah is a bit upset because she knows Cesar in particular is going to be upset about his father leaving again. 

The first photos arrive from Yugoslavia.  The guys at the news room talk about the conflict being the settling of old grievances and/or ethnic skirmishes.  It's not a real war.  News arrives that a German reporter was shot dead in the Karlovac region.  At night Sarah receives a mysterious phone call.  She can't hear the person on the other end, but knows the person can hear her.  She assumes it's her husband and she tells him how much she misses him.  The next day Sarah goes into work.  She notices that her colleagues all look at her strangely.  She begins to realize that something is wrong.  She goes into see Sam.  When he tries to tell her what happened she says "no, no, no" and rushes out of the office.  She tries to go home but falls to the floor.  When she sees a concerned Sam she tells him:  "Don't say it!"  Sam says they lost a reporter and cameraman too at the small town of Osijek.  He tells Sarah that they won't be bringing his body back.  A house collapsed on him and they bury everyone right away for fear of the spread of diseases.  Sam admits:  "We were wrong.  It's not just skirmishes."  Sarah tells Sam:  "He's not dead, Sam."  She runs out.

Okusani has fallen.  Sarah's mother arrives, but Sarah barely hugs her.  The next day she wakes up to find a Jewish ceremony known as Kaddish being held.  She goes out and complains:  "No one is dead! . . . He's not dead, Peter (her brother).  Just tell them to leave!"    A Newsweek van drops off Harrison's photography bag.  Sarah runs out of the house and grabs the bag from her mother.  She runs back to her room and empties the camera bag.  She then hugs the empty camera bag. 

Thousands of refugees are trying to leave Osijek.  Serbian militia (the Chetniks) fight the Croatian militia (the Ustachis).  Snipers are a threat to all  -- men, women and children.  The Serbian commander says that Vukovar is the key.  They have to hold it.  After that the Croats will have nothing left.  They need to smash the city to get to the other side of the Drova River.  Watching the news coverage on a video tape, Sarah thinks she sees Harrison with his back turned to the camera. 

At night Sarah kisses her children good-bye.  She tells Cesar:  "I'm going to bring him back." 

Graz airport, November 7, 1991.  The lady at the car rental desk tells Sarah that her cars coming back from Graz have bullet holes in them.  A young Croat fellow named Chtiomac asks Sarah if he can ride with her.  She agrees to take him.  On the road he tells her that he is a student in Paris and he wants to be a French teacher in Croatia. He wants to go to Vukovar to find his wife and five month old baby.  As they continue traveling  they run right into a fire fight.  She crashes the car.  She is then pulled out of the car by Serbian soldiers.  The guy in command slaps her.  Chitomac tries to tell them that she is an American journalist but they just rough him up.  Sarah pleads for Chitomac and really gets a nasty slap to the face.  The fellow in charge shoots Chitomac in the head killing him instantly.  Sarah is in absolute shock.  Then she is grabbed by one of the soldiers who throws her onto the hood of a car and prepares to rape her.  But he has to stop because the troops are pulling out of the area. 

A car with big letters saying "TV" comes along.  Three photographers jump out of the car and start taking pictures.  The one female photographer starts taking pictures of Sarah laying on the ground.  But then the picture taker realizes that her subject is alive.  She calls for the others to help her. She also says that the woman is lucky; the soldiers didn't have time to rape her.  They take her to Osijek with them.  As they pull away, Sarah looks at the dead body of Chitomac.  When they arrive Kyle Morris recognizes Sarah.  He says to her:  "You're out of you f___ing mind!"  Maybe, but she is still going to go to Vukovar.  Kyle tells her to get out of Yugoslavia.  He says that the people are insane here. 

When Kyle talks to the other photographers about Sarah he says he called her one night to tell her about her husband, but she could not hear him.   Shelling of the area becomes very heavy.  Kyle runs up to get Sarah.  He tells her that she cannot be afraid now. They have to get out of the building.   They try to get into the cellar but it is all filled up.  So the photographers get in their cars and start leaving.  A photographer named Marc Stevenson gets in his car which catches fire and explodes.  He just did get out in time.  Kyle picks him up.  Kyle informs the unbelieving Stevenson that they are going to Vukovar for "the lady". 

With a great deal of fear, they go very slowly through a Croatian checkpoint.  After they get through they speak to the officer in charge.  They ask who holds the city.  The officer says:  "We took the west side from the Bokan militia."  The east side is still fighting, but they still hold it.  The Chetniks have all the rest of the area.  Stevenson tells Kyle that he may risk his own neck, but he is not going to risk his.  But by now Kyle has some belief that Harrison is alive.  Stevenson asks him why he risks his life.  Kyle says that if they are killing people everywhere, may as well be killed in Vukovar as anywhere else.  Sarah goes around showing a picture to all the soldiers and asking them if they have seen her husband.  Everyone says no.  Walking around Sarah sees a group of dead citizens.  Kyle tells her they are lucky.  The Chetniks usually take out the eyes of their victims to keep score.  Is she sure she wants to take this trip?  Yes is still her answer. 

Traveling again to Vukovar their car nearly gets shelled.  They have to jump out quickly and make their way into a building.  They get inside the building and find a woman dying.  Sarah comforts her, but she soon dies in her arms.  Then they really get scared as they hear tanks approaching in their direction.  Kyle tells Stevenson to get away from the window.   The man is frozen with fear. 

Sam Brubeck receives a package with film from Yugoslavia.  In the package are rolls of film marked with the name of Harrison Lloyd.  They are now sure that Sarah is in Yugoslavia and that she is still alive, at least as of  three days ago.  She is looking for Harrison.  Sam says:  "She's off her rocker, for God's sake." 

Civilian refugees clog the roads.  One of the photographers snaps the picture of a girl in a yellow dress smiling at them and waving. The army rolls through and Kyle follows behind them.  They are headed for the front.  Vukovar is only 15 miles away and it should take three hours.  

Kyle runs into a bunch of obstacles in the road.  Sarah and Stevenson jump out to remove the obstacles.  A newsman comes back and tells Kyle that he and his team could not get through to Vukovar.  They are killing everything that moves.  Shelling begins.  Sarah, Kyle and Stevenson make a run for the cellar of a nearby apartment complex.  Inside there are several coffins holding dead bodies.  Sarah asks Kyle why he is helping her.  He says that:  "This is for me.  I always wanted to be a boy scout; just needed an opportunity." 

Back on the road the trio passes a group of bus passengers dead by the side of the bus.  They stop to take photos.  The young girl in the yellow dress they had photographed earlier is among the dead.  The girl was raped and then murdered.  Sarah throws up. 

And again back in their car they come to still another road block.  The Croatian soldiers seem to be freaking out.  If they lose Vukovar, they lose the war, and if they lose the war, they're dead.  They get through the road block and stop at military headquarters.  There is another car with the letters "TV" already there.  When the trio get out of the car they see Yeager Pollack, the Pulitzer Prize winner.  Cynical Kyle, upon seeing Pollack, says:  "Don't tell me this war has gone prime-time?"   Pollack tells the trio that 100 yards away there are Serbian snipers.  It's too unsafe to proceed to Vukovar.  Kyle in a hostile tone asks Pollack:  "How the f___ do you know?"  But Sarah simply tells him:  "I have to go!"  Kyle tells Pollack that Pollack cannot stop Sarah so he may as well try to help her.  He then adds:  "Look, we better both pray that someday we find somebody that loves us the way she loves him."  Pollack then admits that he heard from a Frenchman that he saw an American photographer in the Vukovar hospital anywhere from six to eight days ago. 

The quartet decide to make the final leg of the trip by going through the woods.  Sarah and Pollack run into a sniper post.  They have to hide in the field among the high grasses and bushes for awhile.  When Sarah starts to go back into the woods, the sniper finally spots her and starts shooting.  She gets away.  She rolls down the hill down to a broad highway.  The other three are already there.  They are very near a Serbian roadblock.  They decide to walk right through the center of the guards and the other soldiers.  They are harassed a bit when they do go through the crowd, but they make it and then make it to Vukovar.  They see a lot of bodies hanging upside down from ropes.  "It wasn't fighting; it was extermination" is the comment upon seeing the bodies.  There are corpses everywhere in the streets.  The Serbs even slit the throats of children.  A group of soldiers push a bunch of kids into a building and then throw a grenade amongst them.  Stevenson shouts out:  "You bastards!"  The other three of the quartet tell him to get out of the street, but once again Stevenson is frozen in fear.  Kyle goes out and gets him.  Then they see the nearby Vukovar hospital and the cry is "Go, go go!" 

They run into the Arkan guys, the worst of the worst.  Stevenson has another panic attack.  He says:  "I don't want to be here.  I don't want to stay here."  Kyle gets him into a building, but Stevenson, still in a panic, runs out of the building.  Kyle once again has to go after him.  While trying to convince him to come back into the building, Kyle is shot in the chest.  Stevenson drags Kyle into the building where he soon dies.   Stevenson says he's sorry.  They make a run for the hospital.  Sarah rushes into the building.  The others seek shelter from the shelling.  While many are evacuating the building, Sarah goes upstairs to look for Harrison.  She runs around looking at the various patients left in the wards.  She shouts out her husband's name.  She gets knocked down from an explosion.  When she regains her senses she thinks she sees Harrison. She goes over to him and yes, it is Harrison.  He seems to be in a state of shock.  She helps him down to the street. 

Harrison suffers from "bomb blast effect", a trauma caused by a bomb exploding in close proximity to a person.  He is delirious.  Sarah discovers burns all over her husband's body.  But in his mind, Harrison was somewhere else.  She feeds him by hand tiny pieces of bread dipped in water.

November 18, 1991.  Silence is restored.  Mile Deda Kovi has ordered his Croatian troops to surrender.  After an 87 day siege, Vukovar fell. Serbian leader Milosevic had won. 

Now Sarah and Harrison and the other two newsmen leave the hospital and the Serbian soldiers triumphantly and defiantly march through the streets of the town. 

New York City. Sarah and Harrison arrive back home.  His children try to interact with him but he still seems dazed and confused.  Caesar is much nicer to him now.  He tells his father that he took care of his flowers, but one of them got ruined. 

One year later, December 14, 1992.   Sarah wakes up early and finds Harrison out of bed.  She goes looking for him.  She finds him in the greenhouse.  When she comes in her husband actually says "Hi!" to her.  She is shocked.  He then tells her:  "My little boy took care of the flowers."  He then asks Sarah:  "What happened to me?" 

Sarah, Harrison and their family moved to St. Louis.  Harrison was feeling fine. 

 

Good movie.  Really keeps your interest.  At times it felt that there was a bit too much anxiety created for Sarah and her welfare.  I was getting tired of worrying about her.  My God the Serbs were horrid.  It was like the rampage of the Nazis and perhaps in some ways even worse.  And we thought it couldn't get worse?  Never underestimate the cruelty of humans toward other humans.  Andie MacDowell as Sarah Lloyd and Adrien Brody as Kyle Morris were excellent, and the other actors were good too.   My wife also like the movie a lot. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

Nations surrounding Yugoslavia:

North Section:
From west to east:
Italy, Austria, Hungary, Romania

East Section:
Bulgaria.

South Section:
From west to east:
Albania, Greece

West Section:
Adriatic Sea

Sandwiched in this section is (clockwise direction from northwest section):

1. Slovenia (capital Ljubiana) = northwest corner. Religion mostly Roman Catholic.

2. Croatia (Zagreb) = western coast & north central. Religion mostly Roman Catholic.

3. Serbia (heart of former Yugoslavia) (capital Belgrade) = northeast & east central. Religion is orthodox Christianity.  (Kosovo was a province of Serbia and Montenegro.)

4. Macedonia (capital Skopje) = bottom of the southeastern section.

5. Montenegro (capital Podgorica) = west part of southeastern section.

6. Bosnia-Herzegovina (capital Sarajevo) = southwest. Religion Islamic and Christianity.  When the Bosnian Civil War broke out there were a number of ethnically defined factions within Bosnia and Herzegovina:   Republika Srpska (Serbs), Herzeg-Bosnia (Croats), the remnants of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (predominantly Bosniaks) and the lesser faction in Western Bosnia (Muslims by nationality).


History of the Area:

There are a lot of ethnic divisions, partly due to the fact that that the area was fought over by representatives of three major religions: orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism, and Islam.

Prior to 6th century -- Kosovo and the surrounding area occupied by the Illyrian people, who became present-day Albanians.

6th & 7th centuries  --  Serbs arrive in Kosovo and the surrounding area.

1174-1236 -- Rastko creates the first Serbian national church which becomes part of Orthodox Christianity.

1389 -- Ottoman Turkish Sultan, Murad I, conquers what is now Yugoslavia by defeating Serbian Prince Lazar at the Battle of Kosovo in the Field of Blackbirds.

15th century  --  Muslim influence extended to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

16th century  --  Slovenia and Croatia come under the influence of Austria with its accompanying Roman Catholicism. Thousands of Serbs forcibly relocated to the Croatian border with Bosnia.

19th century  --  Russia defeats the Turks; Serbia granted independence; Kosovo and Macedonia remain under the Turks; the Austro-Hungarians control Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia.

WWI  --  the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires collapse; Yugoslavia becomes a kingdom under King Alexander with control of: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia.

Period between the world wars -- a fascist separatist movement, the Ustashe, is established by the Croats to gain their independence.

World War II  --  the Nazis over-run Yugoslavia and partition it into two parts:

1) The fascist Ustashe (Croatians; primarily Roman Catholics) establish a puppet Nazi state (including Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina). Large numbers of Serbian Orthodox believers, Jews and Gypsies are exterminated.

2) Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro.

1944-45 winter -- the 21st division of the German Waffen SS, recruited almost entirely from ethnic Albanians, carries out the last ethnic cleansing exercise of the war, in Kosovo, against the Serbs.

Post WWII -- a civil war breaks out, killing as many as 1 million Yugoslavs. Communist Joseph Tito unites the six republics into a communist dictatorship independent of Russia: from north-west to south east, the political entities were Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia. Strongman Tito suppresses the various religious and cultural rivalries.

1974 -- Tito angers the Serbs by granting autonomy to the north-eastern province of Vojvodina and the southern province of Kosovo.

1980 -- Tito dies.

1987 -- trouble in Kosovo; the ethnic Albanian majority attacked the minority Serbs. The somewhat overblown reports of the attacks angered the Serbs in Serbia.  Slobodan Milosevic becomes a Serbian hero by promising that the Serbian minority in Kosovo would be protected.

1989  --  Radovan Karadžić, a poet and psychiatrist, co-founded the Serbian Democratic Party in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Its purposes was to protect the interests of the Serb community in Bosnia. 

1989 -- Milosevic forces changes to the Yugoslav constitution terminating the autonomous status of the Vojvodina and Kosovo. Milosevic establishes direct Serbian rule over Kosovo and starts to punish the majority Kosovo Albanians depriving them of basic rights.

1991 -- Slovenia and Macedonia declare their independence. But when Croatia makes a similar attempt for independence, the Serbs object. In Croatia 79% of the republic was Croatian, but the 12% of the population that was Serb were not ready to become a minority. Civil war breaks out in Yugoslavia.

1991 (August-November)  --  the Battle of Vukovar.  An 87-day siege of the northeastern Croatian city of Vukovar (at the confluence of the Vuka and Danube Rivers) by the Serbian army and various Serbian paramilitary forces during the Croatian War of Independence.  The Serbs defeated the local Croatian National Guard, Vukovar's near-total destruction and the killings/expulsion of most of the Croat population.  The victory was a turning point in the war.  It cost the Serbian army a lot and helped gain international support for Croatian independence.

1991 (November 18-21)  --  the Vukovar massacre was a war crime near Vukovar in which 264 mostly Croats were murdered by Serb militias aided by the Servian army. 

1992 -- start of the cease-fire (established with the help of the U.N.).

1992 (March 3)  --  Bosnia declares independence.

1992 (April)  --  after Bonsian independence was declared, the Yugoslave People's Army officially left, but unofficially most of the command chain, weaponry, and higher ranked military officers, including general Ratko Mladic, remained in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Army of Republika Srpska (Serb Republic). 

1992 (April 5) - 1996 (February 29)  --  the siege of Sarajevo, which was the longest siege in the history of modern warfare. Sarajevo (mostly Bosnian) was surrounded by the Bosnian Serbs. 

1992 (May 13)  --  Radovan Karadžić became the first president of the Bosnian Serb administration in Pale, northeast of Bosnia's capital Sarajevo.  He was later accused of having ordered the ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks and Croats.

In Bosnia a civil war erupts among the Croats, Serbs and Muslims. It was a terribly brutal war with targeting of civilians and whole-scale ethnic cleansing practiced by the Serbs. Concentration camps were established as part of this strategy. During the next three and a half years, Bosnian Serb forces killed more than 200,000 civilians, forcing half the population, two million people, to flee their homes. Tens of thousands of women were systematically raped. The U.N. was almost completely ineffective in its attempts to control the situation.

1993 -- Macedonia admitted to the UN under a provisional name.

1994 -- Macedonia recognized by the U.S. and Russia.

1995  --  the Dayton Accord, brokered by the U.S., establishes a fragile peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but not in Kosovo.

1996 (February 29)  -- end of the Seige of Sarajevo.  During the siege, there were 12,000 people killed, 50,000 wounded.

1996-1997  --  in Kosovo, the ethnic Albanians' Kosovo Liberation Army begins a guerrilla campaign.

1998  --  the Serb army destroys several villages in Kosovo. The West does not react and so the Yugoslavian government escalates the conflict leading to a massive civil war in Kosovo.

1999 March 24 -- the west finally intervenes; NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia.

1999 April 20  --  over a half million refugees forced out of Kosovo.

1999 June -- after heavy bombardment of Serbia, Milosevic finally gives in.  He is later arrested and put on trial for his many and brutal war crimes.

2005  -- Kosovo's final status yet to be determined. 

2006  --  Milosevic dies in prison. 



http://www.religioustolerance.org/yugo_his.htm
http://www.friendsofbosnia.org/edu_kos.html

 

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