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Movies Halimas PathI prefer movies that immerse me in the real world, rather than those which provide distraction, through song and dance, fanciful fictions  or escapist violence. I prefer to learn about my far neighbors rather than have my views and attitudes for near neighbors confirmed. So many directors all around the world, blessed with small budgets and engaging actors, are telling powerful and revealing stories we know only as headlines or not at all;  there are days when I think it impossible to see American made movies again.  Halima’s Path/Halimin put (2012) from Croatian director, Arsen A. Ostojic, is only the latest I have come across.

In mournful and respectful development and scenes, with music to match, he tells the story –based on true facts we are told– of love, boundaries crossed, war, and loss in the collapsing Yugoslav republic. Part Romeo and Juliet, part mystery, part wounds of war, we are pulled into strange, and intimate, but partially familiar, territory.

The film opens under a dark and lowering sky. Lightning is flashing in the distance.  A young woman runs across a sloping green field, both beautiful and ominous. It is western Bosnia, 1977.  Tito is still in power; Yugoslavia is still a nation.  In pouring rain the young woman knocks frantically on the door to a rural house.  This is Safija [Olga Pakalovic], a young Muslim girl, distraught and in trouble, turning to her aunt, Halima [Alma Prica.]  She is in terror of her father, Avdo, Halima’s brother, because she is pregnant and by a Christian boy, Slavo [Mijo Jurisicfrom a nearby village.

In several telling scenes we learn that Halima, herself, has been unable to conceive and that both her husband’s brother and her own are not a comfort to their families; her brother-in-law is cruelly contemptuous of her infertility.  We see the young man’s father pressing him over rumors about a Muslim girlfriend, and his mother crossing herself in distress; Safija’s father takes a whip to her.  When the scene is interrupted by a flower carrying Slavo, violence ensues.  Slavo runs and Safija disappears over the dark green fields.

Cut to 23 years later, 5 years after the end of the war.  Excavations of bones and bodies are slowly being done by international teams. In a scene that is both awe-full and respectful we see arranged over a large indoor floor many dozens of tarps in column and row, each with bones laid out in the form of partial bodies.  Two UN workers in white bio-hazard suits, carefully place the bones from one tarp in a box, and mark it.  With DNA blood samples relatives have been trying to track down lost family members and bring them home to proper burials.

A neighbor comes rushing a house where a visibly aged Halima is mending a porch rail. She tells her “they have come!” and Halima goes to see if any of her family has been found.  In the first of several flashbacks, cinematic and psychological, we see events of the recent war; she has lost husband and son.  We begin to be aware of the mystery; the path down which she is going –straight into Greek tragedy, though we don’t know yet on what it turns.

The performances by both women, Halima and Sofia are powerful and convincing; we inhabit their muddy, star-crossed villages with them.  Slavo, the Christian young man, is quite good as well with a few over wrought moments. The supporting cast in the three families could have been drafted from the very villages being filmed in, rugged, work-worn, and taciturn; Ostojic and his writer have built some character complexity even into their short moments on screen.  Safija’s brother tries to protect her from her whip-wielding father, but then turns on the intruding ‘other,’ the Christian boyfriend, threatens to kill him and orders his sister out of the home. Halima’s brother-in-law, early so crude and contemptuous of her, becomes a support and, if still difficult, an ally in her search.  Even the brutal father finds some small reconciliation at the end.

The music is quite wonderful and spare, leaving many scenes to develop without.  When used it has a Balkan-like sound with zither, flutes and quiet instruments that color the mood and sense of the visuals without trying to emotionally manipulate  our fear or our sympathy.  The camera work and color is fine throughout, from dark interiors and just the right amount of light on key actors, to wide panoramas, to respectful burial scenes. No jerky, chasing shots but nice static wide angle shots of the terrain or smooth crane shots bringing into view, or exiting from a scene.

Simply a terrific movie.  Not didactic or ideological but leaving a deep impression of love daring to cross boundaries, the resistance of the boundary makers to being crossed, of war, and its wounds of war, not only on the battlefield.