An intriguing portrait of a war reporter that died under murky circumstances during the 90s in wartime Yugoslavia, after trading in his pen for a more active role in the bloody conflict.
Carmen Gray
Freelance film critic and regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: October 29, 2018
Country: Switzerland / Croatia / Germany / Finland, 2018, 90 min.

Swiss director Anja Kofmel embarks on a journey to seek closure to a family mystery that has obsessed her for twenty years. Her cousin Christian Würtenberg was a war reporter who, at the age of 26, found himself in the latest hot spot – going to Yugoslavia as Milosevic’s forces tried to crush Croatia’s attempts at an independence breakaway from the federation.

He soon abandoned the role of journalistic observer to join the PIV (Prvi internacionalni vod), a paramilitary group of foreigners fighting against the Serbs. The paramilitary group was responsible for ethnically cleansing civilians in villages around Osijek, a city located in the north of Croatia. In 1992, Würtenberg was strangled in what was left as unclear circumstances.

Taking his diary notes with her, Kofmel sets out by train to trace the last places her cousin travelled to, enlisting the help of a wartime fixer who had guided him on several occasions from the InterContinental Hotel in Zagreb, where reporters holed up, into the belly of the beast.

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Sliding into moral corruption

In seeking to determine not only how Würtenberg got killed but why he joined an ultranationalist organisation, Kofmel avoids endeavouring to excuse his actions through any rose-tinted glasses of family loyalty. Instead, she offers a clear-eyed and haunting meditation on the moral corruption of war and the darker impulses of humankind, imaginatively blending investigative documentary with animated segments of phantasmagorical, animated elegy.

Inky hand drawing provides an innovative, poetically evocative means of envisioning Würtenberg’s wartime experiences. These are reconstructed as dramatic episodes intercut with interviews the director conducts with those who were present at the time, as well as archival footage from the war.

At one point in the film the Swiss recruit is ordered to shoot an elderly civilian villager, and refuses, while another soldier goes to finish the task in his place. These segments rest on conjecture over just how bloody his hands got in the war atrocities, and remind us that complicity does not reside solely in pulling the trigger.

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