Jasmila Žbanić: On the Path (Na putu, 2010)
reviewed by AjlaTerzić © 2012
Jasmila Žbanić has demonstrated unquestioned empathy for social themes in her films Red Rubber Boots (Crvene, gumene čizme, 2000) and Esma’s Secret (Grbavica, 2006). The director is widely engaged in human rights issues in her native country and in her latest film On the Path (Na putu, 2010) she focuses on the Wahhabi community in Bosnia, the branch of Muslim believers that is rather controversial in present day Bosnia and Herzegovina. From the perspective of “moderate” Muslims, the Wahhabi practice of Islam is considered fundamentalist, since they interpret Mohammed’s teachings literally. In everyday life, Wahhabis are known for their style of dress, but most of all for their rigid and patriarchal religious practices. There are many young men in Bosnia who turned to religion after the war; and some of them have found their path in the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed. Žbanić’s film treats one such story.
On The Path tells the story of Luna (Zrinka Cvitešić) and Amar (Leon Lučev), a young couple living in post-war Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Luna is a flight attendant and Amar is an air-traffic controller. Even though their relationship seems idyllic, they both have their war scars. Despite having difficulty conceiving, Luna wants a child and for some time the couple is devoted to this plan. The problems occur when Amar’s drinking begins to interfere with his work and, regardless of the fact that his girlfriend is supportive and they try counseling, Amar ends up getting fired. After this the couple one day runs into Amar’s old friend Bahrija (Ermin Bravo), who turns out to be a devoted Wahhabi, and who later helps Amar find a summer job teaching children computer skills at a Wahhabi community. The film then follows Amar as he turns more and more toward religion and, subsequently, away from his life with Luna.
Luna is appalled by this new turn of events, especially when Amar begins to criticize the way she behaves and when he suggests that the couple should be married properly in a mosque according to sharia law. It is not so much that Amar’s new-found beliefs are surprising, more importantly it is the fact that Amar simply renounces the life he led before getting involved with the Wahhabis. Amar feels that the couple should not have sex before they are married, without even acknowledging the fact that this is what they used to do. And even when Amar does acknowledge his previous way of life, he is very defensive: Amar insists that the couple was not able to conceive because they lived in sin (and not because of his alcohol addiction). Luna’s anger erupts after witnessing a Wahhabi wedding between Bahrija and an underage girl (this is Bahrija’s second marriage) in a mosque. The viewer can fully understand Luna’s rage after she walks out the mosque. Luna has witnessed an act that is not only foreign to her vision of the world but an act that is illegal in Bosnia, both on the accounts of polygamy and one may add, pedophilia.
The director’s concept for the movie is compelling, and socially relevant, but it does introduce certain problems. The main problem in the movie is its rather clichéd story of two opposed worlds—the secular and the religious, both extreme in their own ways. In contrast to Luna and Amar’s secular and rather hedonistic life, filled with sex, alcohol and rock’n’roll, stands the idyllic life of an orthodox Muslim community situated near a lake, where its members are surrounded by untainted nature. Considering Luna’s shock after witnessing the Wahhabi wedding, it might be said that the movie functions not as a depiction of Wahhabism with a slightly human face, but rather as a defense of “moderate” Muslims—which Luna and her family in fact are. Her family is shown through this premise of religious moderation, even though the major breaking point between these two interpretations of Islam is rather stereotypical. In the scene where Amar and Luna visit her grandparents’ house on Eid, Amar gets upset since Luna’s family consumes alcohol, which he gave up because of his newfound religion (and his condition, too). Amar’s righteousness here is rather annoying, just as any zealous follower’s point of view might be, and Žbanić has successfully depicted a cliché.
To a Bosnian audience, the director made an effort to present the movie as a local love story, the couple being an ordinary couple that runs into a few obstacles thatputs their love to the test. But no common people live in a house located in the expensive city center, with a view overlooking multicolored Sarajevo rooftops, as Luna and Amar do. Other aspects of the movie are overdone, too, such as the idyllic representation of the religious community and the concomitantly indulgent secular environment. Even the usually excellent actress Mirjana Karanović (as Bahrija’s first wife, Nađa) turns out comical and bizarre in a scene in which she drives Luna to the lake, taking her hidžab off and clenching her steering wheel. As a contrast, there are some very impressive appearances in the movie, such as the magnificent Maria Kohn as Luna’s grandmother; when this women says sikter!, meaning ‘back off,’ one instantly starts to shiver. Kohn’s stamina is rarely seen in movies and the audience here has the benefit of witnessing it in Žbanić’s film as the actress defends her way of celebrating Eid.
We are informed that Luna has had her share of misery as a refugee in Sarajevo, whose parents were killed during the war. There is a powerful and almost frightening scene in the movie where Luna and her friend played by vibrant Nina Violić visit Luna’s hometown, now inhabited by obscure and hostile faces. But as much as one may develop sympathy for Cvitešić’s character, her juvenile and almost “bipolar” phases confuse the viewers. We witness the manifestation of her unusual conduct at the very beginning of the film. In the opening scene, Luna explores her own figure with her cell-phone. Despite her statement that even Scarlet Johansson is frustrated with her appearance, Luna is curiously fascinated with her image in the mirror (i.e. her mobile). The numerous fairy-tale episodes in this film (Luna carrying a basket, her visit to grandma, and the mirror-mirror-on-the-wall sequence) confirm Luna’s detachment from real life. She is often filming things around her with her mobile just to make them more real. Luna’s occupation as a flight attendant is similarly symbolic: she spends most of her time in the clouds, both literally and metaphorically.
In the end, Luna and Amar cannot reconcile their differences and they part ways. Luna, with a baby on the way, decides to break off her relationship with Amar, who is not entirely ready to let her go. At the film’s end, Amar calls after Luna, inviting her to come back to him: Luna, vrati se. Luna, in her response, echoes Amar’s words and invites him to come back to her, (vrati se ti meni) back from the path he was pursuing. Luna proudly decides not to take the path together with Amar, despite her love for him. We can interpret this as a very “adult” decision on Luna’s part; however, the ending follows the simplistic either-or aspect of the entire film.
The subject of Žbanic’s film On the Path is beyond any doubt very important to present-day Bosnia, and it is to be hoped that this topic will inspire other moviemakers to continue to examine this complex issue further.
On the Path (Na putu) Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria, Germany, Croatia, 2010
Color, 100 min
Director: Jasmila Žbanić
Script: Jasmila Žbanić
Director of Photography: Christine A. Maier
Music: Branko Jakubović
Editing: Nikki Mossöbck
Production designer: Lada Maglajić
Cast: Zrinka Cvitesić, Leon Lučev, Jasmin Bravo, Mirjana Karanović, Maria Kohn, Nina Violić, Sebastian Cavazza
Production: Deblokada, Coop99 Filmproduktion, Pandora Filmproduktion, ŽivaProdukcija
Jasmila Žbanić: On the Path (Na putu, 2010)
reviewed by AjlaTerzić © 2012