From 1992 on my mother taught German to Bosnian refugees, who were housed in our local community hall. I was about 4 years old. I remember old women, young mothers and children at my age sleeping on the floor, with their few belongings scattered around them, lost in a strange place, and yet grateful to be alive. Later in school, I had friends, whose parents came to Austria back then. I remember that they talked about war and about leaving their homes and coming to mine. I don’t remember why this happened. I didn’t know what had happened.
In For Those Who Can Tell No Tales Berlinale Golden Bear winner Jasmila Zbanic (Grgavica, 2006) shows Australian performance artist Kym Vercoe on a backpacking trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina. From Sarajevo she follows the tracks of Nobel prize winning author Ivo Andric to Visegrad, a sleepy town on the Bosnian-Serbian border. Relying on her guidebook, she goes completely unaware of the grim history of the place. She spends a distressing night at Hotel Vilina Vlas, which leaves her sleepless for seemingly no reason. Back in Sydney and upon an online research of the hotel, she learns the terrible truth of Visegrad. In 1992 the Bosnian-Serb militia murdered several thousands Bosnian Muslims, on the famous old city bridge, dumped them into the river Drina and raped and killed over 200 women in a rape concentration camp located at the hotel.
Re-telling this discovery and Vercoe’s reaction to it in her 2010 theater performance Seven Kilometers North-East, which brought Zbanic’s attention to her work, the film forms a hybrid of fiction and documentary. The artist’s experiences from her personal Balkan travels are interweaved with a staged acknowledgement of history. Using the perspective of the outsider, and the camera as a buffer, Zbanic is enabled to take a step back and reflect on her own country’s troubled past. Her film is a symbolic tribute to those, who can tell no tales; those, who died as victims of the ethnic cleansing of the Visegrad massacres.
The oppressive atmosphere of the town, characterised by a spotless cover, intimidating locals and a paranoid traveller, is captured by the towering images the camera shows us. The majestic old brigde looms over the clear river, the spa hotel has a clean, emotionless aura, an idyllic small town by the river. No sign of the gruesome truth. It was washed away, as if nothing ever happened. “Ignorance is bliss”, says Kym in the film. Instead of sights, she only saw sites of death. And still, in a way, the visual journey of coping transforms something terrible into a poetic form.
But how to cope with one’s own history is not the only issue raised by For Those Who Can Tell No Tales. It also calls for traveller’s and tourist’s attention towards the past of the place they visit. In order for history to not be repeated, it may not be forgotten. If the ones involved choose to deny, there has to be somebody else, who tells the tales.