AS IF I AM NOT THERE: Wish You Weren’t Here

Directed by Juanita Wilson. Starring Natasa Petrovic, Feda Stukan, Mira Grbic. 109 mins.
Rating: Three and a half/Five
In cinemas March 4

Samira (Natasa Petrovic) has just moved from Sarajevo to Bosnia to teach in a rural school, but is almost immediately captured by Serbian soldiers who have overtaken the village. The women are dragged away to a labour camp. The men are killed. On the pastoral prison, Samira’s haunting beauty makes her the target of the inhumane soldiers and along with four other women and a child, she is kept in a house where she is systematically humiliated, beaten and raped.

As the title suggests, the film focuses on the largely silent Samira’s attempt to survive the horrors of her abuse by mentally distancing herself from it. Through the most disturbing scenes, including a distressing five minute long rape sequence, Samira blocks out all external noise and even has out of body experiences, watching impassively as soldiers complete their molestation by urinating on her. Her later decision to dress up in revealing dresses and make-up is similarly inspired by a desire to exert some form of control over her situation, and is a heartbreaking display of resilience.

However this sense of disconnect also seeps into the rest of the film, rendering it less effective than it could have been. Shot in quick, highly edited – though beautiful – shots, there’s no fluidity to the scenes or atmosphere, and though the violence is brutal and unflinching, the continuous stream of indignities is met with no explicit reaction from the characters, making it a numbing, rather than emotional experience. And as all of the other victims remain mute and completely unexplored, it’s difficult to truly engage with their plight.
Though Oscar-nominated Irish director Juanita Wilson handles the harrowing and affecting events with integrity and intelligence, she keeps the audience at too great a distance to inflict the emotional impact she is aiming for. Though given the subject matter, this may be an act of mercy.
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