The Scott sisters (Georgia and Sophia) have travelled to Bosnia and Herzegovina to follow four teenagers living with the scarred memories of the Bosnian War in the 1990s. Ante’s father was convicted of war crimes at The Hague in the aftermath and sent to prison for twenty years, while Ante himself dreams of joining the army to experience what his father did after he leaves the orphanage he has grown up in. Magdalena, sharing the same orphanage, hid there from her abusive father who was struggling to recognise his post-traumatic stress disorder: a repression which led him to beat her repeatedly. Ilija, unaware of his father and rejected by his mother, seems the most “stable” – training to become a successful diver. Finally, Elvis, the most disturbed and reckless among the four, has the most tragic story to tell: of a mother and father brutalised and murdered when he was young; poor, kicked out of school and constantly in trouble with the police.
All of these youngsters’ experiences have ascribed them with a painful wisdom far beyond their years. They speak of their permanent anxieties, self-loathing, suicidal thoughts and anger. They are directionless and demonstrably unloved; Ante is saved by the presence of his godfather, Ilija surrounds himself with other divers and fond camaraderie, Magdalena retreats to her maternal grandmother, but Elvis fails to make any kind of meaningful connections. The title of the film feels incredibly appropriate when talking about their lives: they have become shadows as a result of the war: immobilised by loss, demotivated by rejection and ultimately crippled by loneliness.
The Scott sisters tell their stories with elegance, restraint and openness. Often, shots of the teenagers’ talking heads probe deep into their psyches and it never feels that the filmmakers’ presence has greatly altered their responses. The narratives are beautifully intermingled and follow each teen as they endure each hardship. The only drawback is that a sense of hope can be hard to find: there are people who work tirelessly to offer care and support to thousands of youngsters across the country, and they are secondary figures in this film. While it wouldn’t be appropriate to pull them centre-stage, there is a far greater discussion to be had on the need for widespread help in Bosnia – and how that fundamentally this is linked to economics.
The magic of this film however is that it speaks to the lasting damage of virtually all wars. While every survivor’s story is different, the conditions are so often paralleled. In the Shadow of War agonisingly, reluctantly, but essentially shines a light on the “lost generation” of Bosnia that, without attention, will continue to wander in the dark.