In one of several, equally heart-rending and inspiring segments in Videoletters entitled Vlada and Ivica, Vlada and his father Zoran, a Serbian, finishes recording his videotaped message and begins to reflect pensively on their family’s inevitable estrangement from the intended videoletter recipient, Vlada’s childhood friend Ivica and his father Zeljko Krilcici, a colleague and long-time friend from Croatia with whom they had lost contact during the turmoil of the civil war that culminated in the break-up of Yugoslavia. Years earlier, Zoran had written a guilt-racked, soul-baring letter to Zeljko expressing his profound apology, sorrow, and shame for his country’s military action in Croatia during the war – a letter that Zeljko had never responded to. In a wistful attempt at levity, Zoran admits his reluctance to attempt contact with the Krilcici family after all that has happened: “Now we can still say: ‘We have friends in Zagreb.’ But if you pick up the phone, you run the risk of having to admit: ‘I don’t have friends in Zagreb anymore.’ Now I can still avoid the truth, saying ‘We don’t see each other but we are still friends.” But Zeljko has a simpler (and non ethnically motivated) explanation for his silence towards his old friend’s heartfelt missive, remarking that Zoran was not responsibility for the war and did not have any reason to apologize at all. Nevertheless, a deeper – and more poignant – underlying reason soon surfaces behind Zeljko’s (and the family’s) absence of communication: the knowledge of Zoran’s post-retirement activity in workers unions and eventually, in national politics. Fearing that opponents will exploit their friendship for political fodder in order to attack Zoran’s patriotism (or worse, accuse him of treason), Zeljko has consciously avoided pursuing contact with him. The long overdue moment of the revelation, enabled through a combination of modern technology and old-fashioned determination, is revealed in Zeljko’s characteristically straightforward videoletter postscript, offering Zoran and his family, not only a sense of closure from their reluctant fate, but also a renewed optimism for humanity in the face of seeming hopelessness, rage, distrust, and exile: “We do not think that you’re guilty or that all Serbs are guilty. You are good people, good family…We still love you, there are no problems.”
Conceived for broadcast on the ten-year anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords throughout the now-independent countries of the former republic of Yugoslavia, the underlying premise of the project is deceptively simple: a person from one war-town Balkan nation records a videotaped message to be hand delivered by filmmakers Katarina Rejger and Eric van den Broek to their personally selected, intended recipient in another war-town nation and who, in turn, will record a response to be sent back to the originator. Composed of a series of self-contained, half-hour episodes depicting intimate, emotionally candid first-hand testaments of ordinary people – often childhood friends, co-workers, neighbors, and even passing acquaintances whose relationships were rended by war (such as the unexpectedly uplifting segment, Mujesira and Joviša, in which a former interned prisoner attempts to establish contact with a camp guard in order to enlist his aid in finding the remains of her children who were killed during the ethnic cleansing of her village) – as they recount their personal experiences during the war and express their sincere hopes for reciprocated contact, the film is a thoughtful, impassioned, and profoundly affirming portrait of communication, reconciliation, and closure in the aftermath of the Balkan Wars. In the end, the recurring shots of the filmmakers’ numerous road trips throughout the former Yugoslavia – emerging from dark tunnels, traversing difficult and often impassable terrain, and recording the irreconcilability of landscape between intact cities and abandoned village ruins – converges to reinforce the metaphoric image of the Balkan region as a fractured, human mosaic of complex, tragic history, multi-faceted identity, and intrinsic, unerasable beauty.
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