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Witnesses More at IMDbPro »Svjedoci (original title)

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23 out of 26 people found the following review useful:

Extraordinary Portrait of Human Beings in Wartime

10/10
Author: guslav1 from Seattle, USA
10 June 2004

I find it hard to believe that someone might give this amazing film less than an 8. If they do, it is undoubtedly either because they do not understand it, or for nationalistic reasons. Those who ascribe to a simplistic, black-and-white view of the war in Croatia will be disappointed with the grey in which Svedoci operates.

What Bresan achieves is a stunningly human portrait of the nuance between good and evil which predominates in times of war. From virtually every standpoint--artistic, technical, acting, musical--this film is astonishingly good. Though it is about the war in Croatia during the 1990s, the film's themes are relevant to virtually every civil conflict.

I highly recommend it to any serious cinemaphile.

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14 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

Innovative and realistic view of souls lost in war hell

9/10
Author: strider_strider from Slovenia
2 December 2005

Film Svjedoci (Witnesses) by Vinko Brešan is from Croatia. Brešan has won countless prizes and awards in his own country, and with Svjedoci he has been nominated for the Oscar for best foreign film. Already during production, the movie triggered a fierce debate in Croatia: set against the war in Yugoslavia, this young director portrays the fatal psychological impacts of war and violence in three parallel tales. The film is based on motifs from the bestseller The Plaster Sheep by Jurica Pavicic; which was inspired by a true story from 1991 when a group of Croatian soldiers brutally killed a Serbian family. Witnesses consists of three stories, each beginning at the same moment –the moment of murder investigation, and each story gives a new point of view of what actually happened.The film focuses on the idea of losing your soul in a war. Even during production, some of the more conservative town—councilors and some war veterans' organizations protested because of the topic of this film. The film has also been publicly cried out against, because one of the main characters is played by a popular Serbian actress Mirjana Karanovic. Recommendations to observe: First scene (lasting, photography, and exterior). All blow-ups and actors face expressions. Bad point: "Happy" and heroic end of the movie

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10 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

Casulties of war

9/10
Author: johnny-08 from Rijeka, Croatia
31 July 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

At first, I was a bit skeptic about this movie. It's because I'm sick of watching endless stories about war and especially about this theme. About endless hate between Croatians and Serbians. But this movie really surprised me and I liked it very much.

Story takes place in war and we follow story of three Croatian soldiers (Josko, Vojo and Baric) who came home and they killed one Serbian civilian and kidnapped his daughter. All of this happened from their frustration because Serbian soldier killed one Croatian in war. That killed man was father of Josko and Kreso, who is unfamiliar with this kidnapping story because he was in hospital, due to his injury in war.

Brilliant portrayal of people in war, with no more characters then it has. Everything is so well made and the whole story goes great. I think ending is just perfect and it presents director's vision. That one day we can all live in peace and that we can all live together, no matter what nationality we are.

Director Vinko Bresan made very good movie and in movie we can see very well known Croatian actors. From big roles to smaller ones. Quality of movie was recognized on film festivals all around the world (Berlin, Jeruzalem, Netherlands, Karlovy Vary and of course in Croatia).

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9 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Excellent.

9/10
Author: Sandra Lukic from United States
1 November 2007

Without glamorous Hollywood special effect this movie which on the first glance looked simple manage to convey a very powerful message and compex characters. It is an event (a murder) that under war situation develops very differently than it would be if it is peace; The nationalities of murders and the victims as well as their roles in war became more imortant that the crime itself. The characters and their motivies become more clear as the film develops. I was born in Belgrade so I am very familiar with the tragedy of the Balkan war. However even for my husband who is French and is much less familiar with what happen in 90- ies in ex-Yugoslavia, film was easy to follow and the complexity of the message was easy to understand. We both liked it very much. BTW - Excellent cast.

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8 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

Not perfect, but really, really good movie

7/10
Author: tridvajedankreni
28 April 2004

Tough to digest movie. But it recalls very vividly the heaviness of war. It shows the gallery of characters who typically benefit from the war and also the ones who get lost in it. My favourite character is bartender Ljubo (Predrag Vusovic), disillusioned, "leave me alone" kind of person, who is very well embedded in the war economy. Kind of a survivor who hates the way his life still goes on. Some of the war scenes may seem shocking to the viewers who were lucky enough not to witness the war in their countries. But for the rest of us, they are very familiar. As for the technical part, the movie is somehow confusing with its back and forth story-line, and some of the acting is not always convincing, but all considered, it's still a great movie for vaccinating someone against military fever.

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6 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Moral Chaos of Civil War

8/10
Author: Theaetetus from United States
20 November 2006

Civil War makes criminals out of neighbors and murderers out of soldiers. These are well known truths: painfully familiar lessons from the recent Balkan civil wars and now horribly visible in the Iraqi slaughter of Sunni and Shia. But there are always a few rare souls who will seek the same justice for all, whatever their own tragic hardships, whatever the added burden such moral commitment may bring. This remarkable war movie about the recent Serbo- Croatian War explores two such persons, living in a world of utter moral chaos. What is so special about them? Can we fathom their motivations?

When so many act out of greed, vengeance, ethnic hatred, it is hard to explain why a few refuse to do so. If we are all witnesses to atrocities in such situations, we are also all implicated in them. But how can persons who are caught up in the unmitigated horrors of a brutal, bloody civil war find the moral resources to resist such degradation, whatever the consequences to themselves?

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9 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

soldiers fighting the enemy and themselves

8/10
Author: freakyfreak05 from United States
15 February 2005

the insanity of distinguishing a murder from war killing! is there a difference? is the nature of the crime different? isn't fear behind it all? bringing it's ugly cousins, prejudice, hate, pride and ignorance. All these forces working to break or compromise the good side of all of us. that's what the characters of this story are up against. The only redemption and hope in the story rests in the life of the young hostage. The three reckless soldiers, (street thugs with permission to carry automatic weapons) are left without any leadership and their best thinking leads to murder. they are as senseless as war it self. the story is set in a homeland war of Croatia. the difference in their army from conventional armies is that their squad consists of father and sons, brothers, friends and neighbors. i was relucxtant to view, but got it delivered through Film Movement as their pick of the month. i liked this film and it opened the door for me to be more willing to screen a lot more foreign films. they have any element that American films do not. cant quite put my finger on it yet.

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5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

The mom saw something Serbian in the shed

7/10
Author: Chad Shiira from cshiira@gmail.com
22 March 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The first thing you notice about "Svjedoci" is that the camera moves. This filmmaker makes extensive use of tracking shots in the opening scene to follow a convoy of military vehicles, and a car that carries our "witnesses". This ain't your father's, or your father's father's European art film; "Svjedoci" plays like a homage to the film-making aesthetics of Brian DePalma, or in a broader sense, the aesthetics of contemporary American film-making. And sure enough, inside a Croatian watering hole, the walls are decorated with movie posters; most notably: "Rocky" and "Jaws", two films that are distinctly mainstream and American. The police procedural, that's the genre "Svjedoci" employs to tell its story about being a good, moral Croatian. To accomplish this mammoth feat with an American sensibility strikes me as being mildly subversive, since American isn't always good and moral.

A Serbian man is shot. Croat soldiers pulled the trigger and Barbir(Drazen Kuhn) is the detective willing to prosecute the young men against the wishes of the town. "Svjedoci" wants to make the point about killing in uniform being no less despicable than killing in civilian clothes. We see the trigger-man in both guises. The trigger-man's brother is the moral compass who tries to straighten out his vigilant sibling, which diffuses the narrative somewhat, because we thought Barbir was the story's appointed moral compass. As they say, too many moral compasses spoil the soup. In other words, one hero is more than enough.

Somebody is in the shed. The fourth witness is in the shed. Wasting away to nothing, presumably, since nobody is glimpsed providing the prisoner with any sustenance. While the filmmaker occupies himself with all his narrative pyrotechnics(he's no doubt seen "Memento"), "Svjedoci" underestimates the power in getting to know the enemy as a person while his/her fate is being determined. One brother treats this Serb as a human being, while the other brother treats his enemy as collateral damage.

Should a child, "Svjedoci" asks the viewer, pay for the sins of the father, who is a collaborator for the enemy? To my surprise, "Svjedoci" isn't some grim movie about life during wartime in Croatia. It's an entertainment first, message second, sort of movie.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Children

10/10
Author: tedg (tedg@filmsfolded.com) from Virginia Beach
28 March 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This has the most powerful last two seconds I can ever remember. Few filmmakers know how to start a film; this is not often noted because there are so many prefab devices. But far fewer know how to finish. This is truly, truly powerful and if you can see it I urge you to.

The shape of this has two characteristics, both handled well.

The most obvious is the fugue structure. We see certain scenes over and over again, each time with new information. At the same time, new information is provided by new scenes. There are no radical narrative shifts of the kind normally called "twists." But the thing does move about as far as it is possible. Motives are revealed to be different than assumed. Characters emerge from darknesses that you see them create. Time has a different meaning than usual: all the movement stays in one place. It is a narrative structure that must be very difficult to judge from the few successes.

By itself, that accretive stationary motion of narrative would be fulfilling. But here it is turned to a specific purpose. The camera flows in ways not normal: more fluid. When this happens, we want to associate it with a relationship. With dePalma for instance, that relationship is directly with the viewer. With Kar Wai Wong it is with the atmosphere. Kurosawa with the canvas.

Here, we are anchored by what parents see and children reflect. As I am not personally involved in the centuries-old Serb-Croat animosity, it may be easier for me to see the different colors of siblings here, and how they are placed to make this perspective have power.

You may want to watch this a couple times to pay attention to an interesting technique. We see several scenes over and over. Only a few times do we see the same exact shot. Usually, the setup is subtly different. Many times, the eye flows from not only a different direction but with a different curiosity. Sometimes the lighting varies as well — particularly in the all- important bar festooned with American movie posters.

Really. The last image in its context will change you forever. This film matters.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

the horrors of the Balkan wars as a crime drama

7/10
Author: dromasca from Herzlya, Israel
8 September 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

'Svjedoci' comes from a school of cinema that is very little known in the world excepting the films of Emir Kusturica. It's only a decade since the cannons went silent and the former Yugoslavia tries to cope with its new existence, broken into several national states, and tries to make some sense out of the facts that make no sense - the absurd violence that turned neighbors into war criminals, that separated destinies on the lines of religion and nationalist ambitions.

The film has certain cinematographic quality. The techniques of retelling the same story from the perspective of different characters while progressing by a bit the action each time the story is told anew may not be completely original but is well mastered. The story turns around the murder of a Serbian profiteer by a group of three Croatian soldiers and by the efforts of a journalist and her war-crippled husband to reveal the truth and save the life of the kid daughter of the victim, the sole witness of the murder. It is very well acted by a team of expressive and well-chosen actors who provide individual characterization to each of the characters who seem to live a doomed and gray life, full of fear and resignation under the permanent threat of war and death. Crime story and war drama mix while the color pallet reflects exactly the atmosphere, dull tones, permanently cloudy and pressing skies, when it does not rain. Only in the allegoric but too much out of the mood ending colors change - some hope you would say, but this is so unfit with the rest of the film that it almost tells the viewer 'look, the director was or felt obliged to stick it to his true film, but he did not really mean it'.

Yes, it's too close and to near in time for the wounds to heal. time will eventually make its effect, and until then we can expect more films to come from this troubled and lesser integrated area of Europe.

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