1395 Days Without Red

Written for Spoonfed:

1395 Days Without Red is a project that has spawned two films on the same subject, with the same name, and the same cast in the same setting. Co-director of commissioning organisation Artangel, James Lingwood, describes them as ‘twins’. Twins created from the same cells, split apart and ready to go off in their own direction. As yet, they haven’t developed their own personality and seeing them one after the other, they provide only slightly different takes on the siege of Sarajevo between 1992 and 1996.

But their subtle differences are still effective and though only occasionally stark, it is worth seeing both films. They chart a time in which unseen snipers hide in the hills and the upper echelons of imposing buildings, while the population of this ghost city makes its way through bare streets, parks and cemeteries.

Both films look at the notion of observing and being observed. As we watch the old and the young wait patiently, walk briskly, or sit alone we’re reminded by their silence that they too were watched and waited for.

The few words that are spoken are that of American composer Ari Benjamin Meyer as he conducts the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra whose performance of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique splices the scenes and shows us a romantic, strengthening mode of resilience. Their music hums persistently in the head of the protagonist as she draws courage from it or leans on it for distraction.

Played by Maribel Verdu, she is smart, alert and pushed constantly to decide whether to run or walk. Should she remain in the company of others? Or venture out on her own as she approaches empty junctions where her fellow citizens wait for a safe time to cross. There’s an element of humour here as the middle-aged can never break out of that dad-run that’s more about appearing to get faster than actual speed. But we soon learn that they’re taking a chance by being outdoors at all.

Originally working together, Sejla Kameric, who lived through the siege, and Anri Sala, who grew up in communist Albania, edited their footage separately to create the two pieces. Kameric’s film highlights the human resilience, whilst Sala’s delivers exactly what you dread all through Kameric’s: gunfire. But that for me was the only bald difference. Their other disagreements seem to be about tone and atmosphere.

Both challenge the way we see fact and fiction, and show us the dark things that lurk in parks at night, the things we sometimes believe are really there. But for me, ultimatley 1395 Days Without Red is a lesson in filmmaking as Sala and Kameric demonstrate just what can be achieved in each shot. Pulling away as Verdu approaches the camera almost touching the lens, we’re pulled into the reactions she has to her own internal dialogue, bracing herself for what’s ahead of her. These are very much art films with no real plot, but they’re markedly more accessible than most.

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