Sejla Kameric and Anri Sala tread through Sarajevo in 1395 Days Without Red

By Culture24 Reporter | 05 October 2011
A photo of a young woman in profile
© Courtesy Sejla Kameric, Anri Sala and Artangel
Film: 1395 Days Without Red, 10-12 Francis Street, London, until October 23 2011

A tall, rakishly thin, angular-cheekboned woman walks through the streets of Sarajevo.

She is described as “elegant”, but in truth she looks as if she’s modelling this season’s finest new threads for a stroll through an Eastern European suburb on a chilly morning.

Inside a stark concrete complex, the city’s Symphony Orchestra tune up in their overcoats, each cog in the wheel obeying the command of their conductor as men stand and watch, then pass through.

They are practising Tchaikovsky’s 6th symphony, the Pathetique, and every parp and chime seems a perfectly melodious accompaniment to the tranquility of the gardens in the previous scene.

But the serene quickly shifts into the sinister in these films by Sejla Kameric and Anri Sala. The two artists fell out during the project, which now serves to unite both makers as they retrace a route known as Sniper Alley during the siege of the city between 1992 and 1996 (it lasted 1395 days).

Played by the Spanish actress Maribel Verdu, the woman moves in sync with the orchestra, then steels herself by humming their harmonies as she ventures through the memories of streets scarred by shootings, maimings, torture and riots. Hearing their movements in her head as she flinches and shuffles across shopping streets and beside motorways where citizens once fled for their lives.

On one of the pavements, an older woman struts proudly in a coat and pristine make-up. She is one of dozens of residents of the city who volunteered to become the actors in these cinematic revisitings.

We sense their trauma as they tread, the camera shifting between close-up portraits and distant overviews where their shadows stand against ancient houses, boutiques, butchers, fields and snow-covered parks.

They provide light relief when they huddle in tense groups on corners, reach for a cigarette and then sprint one-by-one across crossings, and their participation is heartfelt, brave and faintly comedic anyway, played out in places where little more than a decade ago they were being warned not to wear bright colours for fear of being shot.

A photo of a wide city street lit by sunlight with the shadow of a woman running across it
© Courtesy Sejla Kameric, Anri Sala and Artangel
Anyone who saw or heard about these films when they premiered at the Whitworth for this year's Manchester International Festival will have been struck by their beauty,, but the level of discomforting eeriness is profound. The fear creeps subtly up on you, and hangs thickly in the misty Balkan air.

Viewed from the west, the atrocities which took 10,000 lives in the city – Kameric, a teenager at the time, was one of the survivors – seemed a faraway nightmare during the 1990s.

By the time Verdu reaches a tower block of flats, Tchaikovsky’s works have become the score to scenes which make us shudder with her. This is essential, if painful, viewing.

  • Open Tuesday-Sunday, visit Artangel for screening times. Admission free.
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