Movie review: The White Fortress

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It’s all a fairy tale of love and war in this drama set in Sarajevo

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The new story of Bosnian-Canadian filmmaker Igor Drljaca, The White Fortress felt to me like an uplifting fairy tale. Fairy tale because one of the characters fabricates a story about a girl and a boy and a mythical redoubt, based on his amorous fantasies. And careful because the memories of past conflicts are etched in the city of Sarajevo, where this drama is taking place. And a long day’s drive east, the Ukrainian capital is currently experiencing its own unforgettable trauma. The more things change…

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Pavle Cemerikic stars as Faruk, a teenager from Sarajevan who grows up in the shadow of the Bosnian war. He makes a moderate living selling scrap metal with his uncle, but supplements this with more dubious businesses alongside his friend Almir. One of them involves transporting young women to clients who wish to use them for sexual purposes. Faruk is also expected to groom other girls, which becomes a problem after he meets Mona (Sumeja Dardagan) and falls in love with her.

The two come from very different worlds. Faruk is having a difficult existence, while Mona’s family plans to send her to Toronto to live with relatives. The kids make wacky, childish plans to run away and live in a vacant lot on the outskirts of town, but we already sense things aren’t going to end well for them.

The emotional component of the film builds slowly, and with it the feeling that Sarajevo – site of the murder of Archduke Ferdinand in 1914, conquered by a Nazi puppet state in 1941, besieged for nearly four years in the 1990s – does not allow maybe not them a happy ending. Drljaca offers us, at the end of the film, a glorious timelapse of the sun setting and then rising over an imposing ancient fortress. It’s beautiful, but it also reveals something tragic. Then again, perhaps this trade-off, beauty versus sadness, is perhaps the best these protagonists could hope for.

The White Fortress opens March 25 in Vancouver and Winnipeg, and digitally through Toronto’s Bell Lightbox, and March 28 at Landmark Cinemas.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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