UN PONT SUR LA DRINA
Un pont sur la Drina (A Bridge over the Drina) is a documentary about the aftermath of the Bosnian war. The soundtrack consists of the monotone testimony of a man named Poljo Mevsud at the Yugoslavia War Crimes Tribunal.
While the witness recalls retrieving his neighbours’ mutilated bodies from the Drina River in order to identify them, the camera points to the bridge in the eastern Bosnian city of Visegrad. Sometimes, the man testifies, the corpses were broken as if they had been in a washing machine. We hear Mevsud’s words as we watch the river, where life goes on: fish come to the surface to eat, cars cross the bridge. Dawn turns to day, which becomes dusk. Instead of ‘giving the picture’, the film withholds it, forcing us to imagine the atrocities as we listen to Mevsud.
Since the film shows only the image of the bridge, a terrible (trembling, in the Greek sense of tremein) friction between picture and sound is created. In not showing images that correspond to what we’re hearing, filmmaker Lukomski pays homage to the (mostly) anonymous victims, recalling them without harming them once more by representing them visually. The film’s political and ethical goals are echoed in the film’s aesthetics of non-relation between image and sound.
The film’s problematisation of the notion of translatability has a rationale of its own. The witness and his interviewers communicate via interpreters. The witness speaks in his mother tongue (Serbo-Croatian), the two interviewers in French. — and the witness’ answers are being translated into French. (We don’t hear the Serbo-Croatian translation of the French-language questions, which are transmitted to the witness through his headphones.) Although somewhat lost in translation, the viewer is made conscious of the binding and bridging forces that are intrinsic to translation.
The film takes its title from Nobel Prize-winner Ivo Andric’s 1961 novel Na Drini ćuprija (The Bridge on the Drina). Citations from the book appear at the film’s beginning and end, making it logical to see Lukomski’s film as a tribute to Andric’s work, which immortalised the 450-year-old bridge. Choosing it as a subject enabled Andric to recount 400 years of the history of Visegrad and, by extension, four centuries of the history of Bosnia in general. The Visegrad Bridge over the Drina River, like the Old Bridge in Mostar, can be interpreted as an emblem of the Balkans’ shared history and a symbol of the common ground on which the region’s future can be built. While Lukomski’s Un pont sur la Drina points to this utopian bridging potential, the film also warns that life is not always as it seems, and that the most peaceful image can overlie the most terrible atrocities.