Not for your list of must-sees - unless the subject is already close to your heart
On the one hand, Carla's List documents the difficulties of prosecuting people for war crimes. On the other, if it is to be a constructive element in disseminating knowledge, this documentary needs to be part of a much wider perspective.
Swiss director Marcel Schüpbach focuses on the work in 2005 of U.N. prosecutor Carla del Ponte, and her attempts to bring people indicted as war criminals from the former Yugoslavia to justice.
It opens with sonorous, sombre music and pictures of graves and other scenes that evoke an Auschwitz-like connotation to the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Bosniaks (Muslim) and Croats by Bosnian Serb forces in the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia. There are one or two brief interviews with women survivors. These interviews should be very moving, but sadly they comprise mostly emotionless monotoning of phrases like, "Here I lost my husband," or "Today the ghosts come back." But practically every other scene follows Carla around, with frequent pictures of her list of wanted criminals. She is the prosecutor for the ICTY - the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (The film doesn't make much of the fact that this is a body of the United Nations). The ICTY can try only individuals, not organizations or governments. It should not be confused with the International Criminal Court (ICC) or the International Court of Justice (ICJ) - neither of which are mentioned.
The Tribunal's main triumph, the detention over of Milosevic, is barely covered in the film, although an endnote says that he died in prison (in 2006) shortly after the completion of filming.
The achievement of the film is that it has been made at all. It's shortcomings are numerous.
Carla del Ponte is in tireless negotiations to get the wanted individuals located and handed over. We follow her from the Hague to Belgrade to Montenegro to Zagreb and on to Switzerland, Luxembourg and the USA. She is trying to get Croatia to cooperate in locating and handing over General Gotovina. Is Croatia really cooperating, as it says it is, or merely incompetent? Handing him over is a crucial factor affecting Croatia's accession to the European Union, but is highly controversial in Croatia where many regard him as a war hero.
Finally Gotovina is captured in Spain. Several others on the List are still at large. Del Ponte complains at the lack of cooperation within the international community. " . . . their words are: 'Yes, we will cooperate.' But in reality, politics interferes." She feels the Croatians are cooperating but the Serbians are still stalling. She lobbies the U.S. for economic pressure and also an international task force between all partners in the region. The film concludes that ethnic cleansing has succeeded: most survivors have moved elsewhere.
The film is lacking in two major respects. Firstly its presentation of information is so piecemeal that some knowledge of the history and conflict from other sources is almost a pre-requisite. A few maps, diagrams, charts, statistics and dates to set the historical context would have helped enormously. Secondly, although this is an immensely complex and sensitive area, the film's lukewarm one-sidedness is counterproductive. Today, Bosniaks, Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs teach children radically different stories about the war. Carla's List has a justifiable bias on one side of the story, but a resume of all sides would have made a stronger case than this head-in-the-sand and lingering footage of graves and coffins makes. Consequently the film lacks emotional ballast for all but the most intrepid viewers or those with friends and family of survivors.
As of February 2007, the ICJ has ruled that Serbia was not responsible for genocide in Bosnia, but also that genocide took place in Sebrenica (in Eastern Bosnia) and that Serbia had failed to stop it. This ruling confirmed the ICTY ruling. The ICTY ruling was not quoted in the movie, and would certainly have added weight to the film's standpoint (the number quoted in the ICTY ruling is 40,000 Bosnian Muslims in the Srebrenica massacre).
The Swiss are rightly respected for many things including their fairness and accuracy. Schüpbach's film is more like a monotone - one of those worthy TV documentaries that you hope is going to make a point if you wait long enough. If there is a point it is sadly not very well defined. A Bosnian dish called Bosanski Lonac that takes four hours to cook would make you feel more satisfied at the end. Carla's List is a documentary only in the sense that it manages to follow Carla del Ponte around with a camera. Given the enormity of the subject, a deeper, more experienced approach could have been a more fitting testament.
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