A Cry From The Grave

Leslie Woodhead

UK 1999, 104min.

It is four years since the Dayton Accord proclaimed peace in Bosnia, but shortly before the war ended, one of the worst crimes of the war took place in Screbrenica: the massacre of more than 7000 Muslim men who had been under the protection of Dutch UN peacekeepers. A Cry from the Grave is the first documentary to tell the full story of the massacre – and of the surviving relatives’ plea for justice.

Jean-Rene Ruez, the war crimes tribunal’s chief investigator in Srebrenica,  collects evidences for a trial. His remark on the findings: what we experience is like “the pictures in black and white nobody expected to see back in colour.” But we do get to see the horror in colour for 104 minutes in Leslie Woodhead’s very effective film, which takes a 100- percent stand against the Serb leaders. The film accuses the UN of incompetence and the Dutch soldiers of not being qualified for the war situation they were in. It includes unique archival material from the days in July 1995 when the massacre took place, including footage shot by the Serbs during their invasion. Woodhead has some key eyewitnesses: the interpreter who lost his parents and brother; a woman who lost husband and son; a man who miraculously escaped death. Piecing together those elements, with a voice-over commentary, the film recounts hour for hour how the UN peacekeepers lose control, how the Serbs unscrupulously evacuate women and children, and systematically execute the men. To build up the suspense, Woodhead uses intertitles giving the time and actions for every hour, accompanied by gunshots. As in his 444 Days – about the Americans held hostage at the embassy in Iran – he manages to make viewers feel they are present as the events develop.

772_4When the massacre is over, he stresses his point by juxtaposing shots of crying, exhausted Muslims that managed to escape, with the Serbs as they proclaim the city to be Serb, and the Dutch soldiers that have left Srebrenica, now having a big party. The soldiers’ job is over; they can go home alive and do not have to worry about the 7000 dead bodies behind them – this seems to be what the film suggests.

Watching the faces of the survivors, it becomes clear that nothing will ever give them consolation. The least the UN can do is to see that justice is done by convicting the guilty. Watching Radislav Krstic plead not guilty at the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague at the end of the film, while the widows are identifying the thousands of skeletons that have been exhumed, provokes a cry from the grave for justice.