Svjedoci (Witnesses) (2003)
Director: Vinko Bresan.
Starring: Leon Lucev (Kreso), Alma Prica (Novinarka), Mirjana Karanovic (Majka), Drazen Kuhn (Barbir), Kresimir Mikic (Josko), Marinko Prga (Vojo), Bojan Navojec (Baric), Ljubomir Kerekes (Dr. Matic), Predrag 'Predjo' Vusovic (Ljubo), Tarik Filipovic (Javni tuzitelj), Rene Bitorajac (Albanac), Ivo Gregurevic (Otac), Vanja Drach (Penzioner), Helena Buljan (Susjeda), Sreten Mokrovic (Doktor).
ethnic hatred leads to death of a minority man in Croatia; who did it?
Spoiler Warning: F word spelled out.
City of Karlovac, Croatia in 1992, during the Croatian War of Independence. Late at night, army vehicles start coming into town. After the vehicles move past the square, three guys parked by the town park start moving their car.
In one of the houses, a dead body lays in a coffin in one of the rooms. A visitor at the home tells the mother to give Kreso and Josko his regards when they come home. The mother, Marija, says that Kreso will not come. As the guest leaves the house, that small car with the three guys in it passes by on the street.
The three guys stop their car on the street. They come out with automatic weapons and get some land minds. One man keeps watch as two others go and plant the land mines. As they are doing this, the owner of the house turns on the outside light and starts stepping outside. The guard fires his automatic weapon at the man, who quickly goes back inside. Another man steps into the open door well and fires some more shots at the man.
A police car with its siren on comes down to the house where the crime took place. At the house with the dead man in the coffin, three men in military uniforms sit at the kitchen table in the darkened house with the mother of the house also in the kitchen. The men start talking. One asks why is the other fellow looking at him? After all, the house was supposed to be empty. Another man criticizes the first man saying that the first man said that Vasic, the Serb house owner, was supposed to be in Hungary. And there's another problem. There is a witness that they are keeping locked up in the garage.
Detective Barbir is on the case. He doesn't know it, but he's going to speak to the family of murderers in the house next-door to the deceased Serbian. The mother sees him coming and goes outside to talk to him. Barbir asks her if she heard any shots or maybe see anyone running? Mother says she has to bury her husband today. He was killed on the front line. Barbir asks her if maybe the others in the house heard anything? Mother says no. One boy is her son and there are two more soldier who brought her husband from the Chetnik Village. Barbir gives his condolences and walks away.
Mom goes back into the house and tells the men that Barbir doesn't know anything. She says she will go see Uncle Matic. Her son Kreso is coming to the house and mom tells the men that they must not drag Kreso into this. Kreso looks at the corpse.
The funeral procession of cars follow the hearse. Barbir watches who has come out to the funeral. Uncle Matic is there and he comes back to mother's house. Matic tells the men that since Barbir has no evidence, the worse that can happen is the men could be held as suspects for a few days and interrogated. Of course, the suspects must not rat on each other. Matic leaves. He tells his driver to take him to the city hall.
Mother asks her son, Gojo, how could he let this happen? He says they were only going to blow up the building. They were drunk. Mom says Gojo is the oldest and he must clean up this mess.
The three guys go to a bar frequented by soldiers. Over drinks, Gojo says he will clean up this mess. Baric and he will bring the car tonight and the other soldier will be waiting by the garage. Gojo will put "it" in the trunk and drive it out to the field. At this time, Barbir comes into the bar. He walks past the soldiers and goes to speak to the bartender, named Ljubo. Gojo and the other soldier decide to leave, but Baric tells them he is going to take care of this matter before he goes. The two walk out the door. Barbir follows after them, but then just gets in his car and leaves. The two soldiers just sit in the car waiting for Baric.
A woman reporter named Lidija comes into the bar and asks the bartender if he can tell her anything about Vasic. In the car, Gojo gets impatient and gets out of the car to go check on Baric. Baric now comes out of the bar. Gojo tells him let's get going.
At home, Gojo waits in the darkened house. He hears a car pull up, and goes outside. Mother's in the house and she hears a shot.
Redo of the scene from a different perspective. At the crime scene, a woman says she needs to speak with Barbir. Barbir asks her if she's a crime reporter now? No answer. He says Vasic was a loner and a Serb at that. The woman got a little drunk last night and she feels bad about that. Barbir says she doesn't have to worry about what happened last night. She says Kreso is coming tonight and she wouldn't want . . . Barbir cuts her off saying, no, he wouldn't want that either.
The reporter sees a teddy bear and asks if Vasic had any children? Barbir replies: "Yeah, but not living with him."
The reporter goes outside and talks to an onlooker. Did Vasic have a daughter? The woman answers: "Yes, his Croat wife took the little one with her a couple of years ago. And now she lives in Serbia with a lieutenant, and this criminal [Vasic] here." She says Vasic was always smuggling in goods from Hungary.
Barbir goes to speak to the neighbors. Mother comes outside to talk to him.
Back to the present. The reporter goes to view the body. Vasic was killed by an army-issue, 7.62 caliber, machine gun burst to the chest. There was another burst but from a different weapon, but still from another machine gun.
Barbir speaks with the owner of a bakery. The man tells Barbir that people said Vasic was a spy, a Chetnik, funneling money to rebels in Krajina, and going on weekends to Knin to beat our people in the prisons: "Half the city wanted him dead." The baker says that Barbir should go talk to Vasic's one-time partner, Ljubo.
Barbir goes to the bar to get information from Ljubo. Ljubo says that there were three soldiers in the bar talking about Vasic, but he doesn't know their names.
Flashback. Our three soldiers are in the bar filled with other soldiers. They are talking about how Vasic smuggles and steals. He doesn't care about the war. He's untouchable. Right now the man's in Hungary.
Back to the present. Barbir talks to the prosecutor, who is not impressed by Barbir's suspicions about the three soldiers from the 109th. And the 109th is moving out for the front tomorrow.
Redo of another scene from a different perspective. The crime reporter talks about her being drunk last night. She and Barbir were on a bed kissing. He tells the woman that his wife is in a coma.
Back to the present. Barbir examines Vasic's house again. This time he bags the teddy bear for possible evidence.
Redo of another scene from a different perspective. Barbir goes to the hospital to sit beside his wife Vjera in a coma. He later speaks with the doctor who says there's nothing they can really do for his wife. Barbir watches the people at Vasic's burial. He sees the three soldiers and the reporter with Kreso. After the burial, the reporter asks Barbir about Vasic's daughter. Barbir says that Vasic didn't have a daughter. Barbir then goes to the bar and sees the three soldiers drinking their beers.
Back to the present. Uncle Matic still does some medical operations for the local hospital. Barbir goes to talk to him. Matic tells him that he has six patients ahead of his wife, but he will look to see if some of them have milder cases, so his wife can be moved up on the list. Then Matic tells Barbir that it's not wise to be investigating soldiers of the 109th: "When the war is over, there will be time for investigations, for suspects, trials and prisons. The 109th leaves for the frontline tomorrow. At times like these, it's better not to find out certain things. They can do a lot of harm." And then he suddenly says he will operate on Barbir's wife tomorrow morning.
In the morning, there is a lot of military activity as the 109th starts to move out. Gojo kisses his mother goodbye. Barbir stops to watch.
Flashback. Barbir goes to take the burglary report from the female reporter in her office. Her mind wanders off topic and Barbir asks what's wrong with her? She says: "I was told that my boyfriend was wounded." She doesn't know if he's dead or alive. An air raid siren goes off and Barbir says they have to go to the shelter. She doesn't want to go and asks him to stay with her. A bomb drops a ways from them and the reporter starts crying. She holds onto Barbir.
Kreso comes home to the reporter. She sees him and notices right off that he has lost his left leg in action. She is upset with him because he didn't call for her when he was in the hospital. And everyone else seems to already know about his new condition, except her. Was he thinking that he would just show up healed to her for a big surprise? She says he should have told her right away. She starts crying. She then says she's sorry for the outburst. They hug. He then says he has to go over to see his mother.
Kreso comes over to see mother Marija. Kreso goes to see his father in the coffin. He remembers back. The soldiers were on patrol along the railway tracks. A woman comes out of a house screaming that she is a Croatian. The men relax their weapons and the woman halts and then moves to her right, exposing an enemy soldier, who starts shooting the patrol. Then the patrol shoots back killing the enemy and the woman.
Gojo says he's going to turn himself in. Baric says why should Gojo do that for it was he and Josko who killed the Serb. Men arrive to take the coffin to the burial. The burial is held.
Kreso and the reporter take a cab. The reporter says she's upset because her editor wouldn't print the story of the killing of Vasic, a case in which his daughter may have been a witness. Kreso says he doesn't care a bit about the damned Serbian who was killed? His girlfriend tells him that he sounds just like his mother on the subject.
Kreso sits in the bar, while the guys are at the bar ordering drinks. One of guys yells to Kreso that they will have one round in honor of his father. Kreso agrees. Kreso thinks back on his father. The soldiers were finished with their chow and dad says to Kreso that mother is not happy about Kreso going to wed Lidija, especially since Lidija is older than Kreso. When mother objected to Lidija, Kreso left home to go stay at her place and that was some while ago. So, when the fighting ends, dad wants his son to smooth things over with his mother.
The three soldier murderers ask Uncle Matic what to do about the sole witness. Matic says to kill the witness. Matic leaves and has his driver take him to city hall. Kreso arrives by a cab. He comes in to see his mother and deceased father.
Lidija goes into the bar where Baric is finishing off his beer. She goes up to Ljubo and asks him if he knows anything personal about Vasic? Soldier Baric answers that he knows about Vasic. He says: "I saw everything, and I know everything. . . . He died like everyone else, just a lot easier. . . . What do you think will happen with all of us? We are all witnesses. Fuck it! Who needs us? We should all be killed."
Baric goes outside. Gojo says he will kill the girl witness. Baric goes back into the bar and tells Lidija that they're going to kill the girl. He takes out a hand grenade and places it in his mouth. He pulls the pin and just stands there. Ljubo grabs Lidija and pulls her down behind a thick post. The grenade goes off killing Baric. Josko tells Gojo to get in the car and let's go. Gojo doesn't get into the car, so Josko takes off without him.
Lidija can't get action from the police on the girl captive. She tells the policeman that the blood of the girl witness kept in the garage will be on his hands.
Lidija runs to the hospital to get Barbir. She sees a nurse put the death sheet over his wife's head. Lidija runs off.
Matic goes to talk to the prosecutor. He's not happy with the case of Vasic still not being a closed one.
Kreso fixes a dinner for Lidija. He gets a telephone call from Lidija saying that the soldiers are going to kill the girl witness. She asks what kind of men can kill a father right before the eyes of his daughter and then take her away to be executed? She's a bit hysterical and says that Baric killed himself right in front of her. Kreso tells her to wait at the hospital and he will be there.
Kreso grabs Josko and tells him to tell him that he was not one of the shooters.
Kreso flashes back to the day he lost his leg. He watches as army vehicles whiz by him and the three other soldiers. He stops Josko while he is urinating on their two POWs. Josko goes over to a religious shrine and is going to grab an item, a sheep knick-knack, from it. The POWs warn him not to because they bobby-trapped the shrine. So Josko leaves the shrine alone, but he keeps looking over at the shrine. He bets Kreso that he can hit the sheep figurine from where he's sitting. He throws the stone and hits the shrine and it explodes with a terrific blast. When Josko looks over at Kreso, it's obvious that Kreso has lost his left leg.
Kreso takes Vasic's daughter and puts her in the back seat. Kreso says he's going to drive the girl over the border and drop her off somewhere. Josko sees the little girl still alive and threatens to kill her. His brother says Josko will have to kill him first. Josko pretends that he's going to shoot Kreso, but he won't or can't do it. Kreso drives off. Out of anger, Josko fires off his pistol -- the shot that his mother heard in the kitchen. Kreso drives to the hospital to pick up Lidija.
Barbir watches as Josko is picked up by an army truck.
Kreso drives toward the border.
Flashback. Gojo and Baric talk about the time they killed an enemy and a woman who shouted out that she was a Croat. Baric says she wasn't a Croatian woman. Gojo says maybe she was Croatian, but neither really knows what the woman's ethnicity was.
Josko rides in the back of one of the army trucks in the convoy. He notices that Gojo is also in the back of the same truck, but he has he faced turned away from Josko.
Over the border, Kreso, Lidija and the little Vasic girl hold hands together and look out over the landscape.
According to Wikipedia, the film's screenplay is based on Jurica Pavičić's 1997 novel The Alabaster Sheep (Ovce od gipsa), which was in turn inspired by a real-life case of murder of the Zec family in Zagreb in 1991. A squad of five Croatian militiamen shot dead three members of an ethnic Serb family: Mihajlo Zec, his wife Marija and their 12-year-old daughter, Aleksandra. The murderers were apprehended, and the main perpetrators were given prison sentences, but on totally different crimes.
The movie is very confusing, but decipherable. They keep going over already shown scenes, but adding extra information each time. Then they also use flashbacks. So yes, at times most watchers should be a bit confused. The movie's theme is about the ethnic hatred in the Balkan countries. A Serb is killed primarily just because he's Serbian. Ethnic hatred creates many problems, including ethnic wars.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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