Harun Mehmedinović: In the Name of the Son (2007)

reviewed by Elizabeth Alsop © 2012

Near the beginning of Harun’s Mehmedinović’s short film, In the Name of the Son, the protagonist, Tarik, is awakened by a knock at his door. Viewers at this point know little about Tarik beyond the biographical necessities: he is a Bosnian immigrant, a veteran of the war, now working in Los Angeles as a chauffeur. Yet the close-up of his face as he catches sight of his visitor telegraphs the crucial information: that something traumatic from Tarik’s past—already alluded to in the film’s opening scene—is about to obtrude on his present.

name of son That visitor is Pavle, a former officer in the Serbian army which years ago held Tarik as a prisoner. The history of the men’s relationship unfolds in flashbacks, as Tarik recalls, over the course of their conversation, the events that preceded this present-day encounter. In the most shocking of these, we witness Pavle execute his own son, and Tarik’s friend, Milan, for having defected to the Bosnian cause. Now, nearly a decade later, disheveled and undone by guilt, Pavle has come to Tarik because he “can’t die,” and needs the other’s help. The request is ironic, of course, given how strenuously both have fought to keep from dying. The film is rife with these sorts of chiasmatic reversals: Tarik, who once desired Pavle’s death, must now prevent it; Milan, as Tarik informs Pavle, “protected his son and you killed yours.” In fact, it soon becomes clear that Pavle is looking less to die, than to reenact the scene of his son’s death: to recreate it, and in so doing, reverse its horrific outcome. By kidnapping Tarik and forcing him to stand in as a surrogate for Milan, Pavle hopes to orchestrate events so that this time around it is the “son” who kills the father.

name of son In statements, Mehmedinović has stressed that real stories, as well as biblical, and even mythological ones, inspired the film. Thematically, it also shares some terrain with movies like Abbas Kiarostami’s The Taste of Cherry (1997) and Ramin Bahrani’s Goodbye, Solo (2008), which similarly interrogate the ethics of collaborative suicide. But like Bahrani’s film, Mehmedinović’s is as much an immigrant’s tale as it is a moral one. For all the specificity of Tarik’s narrative, the film seems to emphasize—through the allusions to his upward mobility, American girlfriend, and comfortable home—that it is a more universal one, as well.

name of son At times, Mehmedinović relies too heavily on symbols—a broken mirror, a bloody nose—to convey the extent to which Tarik has been damaged by the war. For the most part, though, the film manages to imply more than it tells. This is thanks both to the script, which is terse and unexpectedly dosed with dark humor, and the performances— particularly that of Serbian actor, Sergej Trifunović, who plays Tarik, and who can distill into a single phrase or glance a surprising range of emotions. Even the cross that Tarik wears around his neck and that, as a gift from Milan, may initially appear over-determined, actually has a more complex function within the film. The subject of numerous close-ups, and the image precipitating many of Tarik’s flashbacks, the cross clearly remains a source of fascination for both characters—even as, worn by the Muslim Tarik, it seems to undermine the ideological certainties for which they were fighting.

name of son At twenty-five minutes, the movie’s brevity is in inverse relation to the scope of its topic, which is not just war,but its aftermath, and aftermaths more generally. How, the film seems to ask, do you return to living, once you are no longer in danger of dying? And how do you make sense of having survived, when so many people—people just like you—have not?

name of son The film’s response—that you just do—is at once mordant and deeply moving. In perhaps the most memorable sequence of the movie, the two men sit, side-by-side, on Tarik’s couch, drinking beers and watching a World Cup match on TV.  “What’s the score?” Pavle asks. “How should I know?” Tarik replies. “You dragged me away.” What is so striking about this exchange, and the entire sequence, is not just its comedy but its banality—the surpassing normalcy of it, which seems almost surreal after all that has transpired. That Mehmedinović holds the shot for nearly two minutes seems to confirm the importance—even the sanctity—he assigns to such simple human rituals. If, as he has argued, the most horrifying consequence of war is the “loss of individuality” it brings about (Turalić 2007), this final scene seems like something of an antidote: offering, through its own sustained attention to these two characters, some reverence for individual lives in all their tragedy and particularity.

Elizabeth Alsop

Works Cited

Turalić, Amra, “Conversations with emerging Bosnian-Herzegovinian filmmakers: Harun Mehmedinović,” Interview, 19 March 2007.

In the Name of the Son, USA, Bosnia, India, 2007
Color, 26 min
Director: Harun Mehmedinović
Script: Harun Mehmedinović
Director of Photography: Jason Raswant
Music: Pinar Toprak
Editing: Tyler Earring
Production designer: Alfredo Acle
Cast: Sergej Trifunović, Jack Dimich, Elvedin Slipac, Ingrid Walters, Nino Cirabisi
Producer: Vikramadithya Singh
Production: American Film Institute

Harun Mehmedinović: In the Name of the Son (2007)

reviewed by Elizabeth Alsop © 2012