by Willard Manus
The hidden cause of WW I provides the main thrust of SARAJEVO, the historical expose which recently opened the 9th annual South East European Film Festival in L.A. Directed by Andreas Prochaska and written by Martin Ambrosch, the duo that worked together previously on The Dark Valley with Sam Neil, the film, a German/Austrian/Czech production, debunks the notion that a bunch of Serbian ultra-nationalists triggered WW I by assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand, head of the Austro-Hungarian empire, while he was on a visit to Sarajevo.
The real culprits, we learn, were a cabal of German industrialists and generals who secretly orchestrated the murder of the Archduke and pinned the blame on the Serbians. The Germans, driven by a lust for power and profits, needed a war to achieve their geopolitical goals. Standing in their way was the youthful and liberal Archduke, a dynastic foe of theirs. If he fell, his empire went down with him, making it easy for these incipient Nazis to impose their will on much of Europe.
Tasked with investigating the killing was a local magistrate, Leo Pfeffer (Florian Teichtmeister). An upright, scrupulously honest person, Leo still was treated as an outcast by his superiors, owing to his Hungarian-Croatian originsand, above all, to the fact that he was Jewish.
The anti-Semitism lurking beneath the facade of turn-of-the-century central Europe is confronted fearlessly in SARAJEVO. The film pulls no punches in its depiction of the prejudices and deceptions that triggered the outbreak of WW I a hundred years ago. Far from being a just or necessary war, as we have been led to believe by most historians, WW I was a cynical and manufactured event, one that would have a devastating and tragic impact on life in our time.
SARAJEVO is many things: a daring political document, a thriller and a police procedural. Directed crisply by Prochaska, it moves with urgency and suspense from beginning to end, helped by the expert cinematography of Andreas Berger, whose palette of dark tones mirrors the shadowy dealings uncovered by Leo Pfeffer. The film also benefits from the assured performances of its first-rate
cast: Teichtmeister is outstanding as an embattled individual trying to stand up to the forces of power. Also excellent are Melika Foroutan as Leos wealthy, gentile mistress, and Heino Ferch as a nationalistic, double-crossing doctor.
SARAJEVO, with its echoes of such contemporary events as the trumped-up Iraqi War, is without doubt one of the most important and compelling movies of the year.