J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Storm

Corruption and ineffectiveness have been the hallmarks of the United Nations, so why should the International Criminal Tribunal be any better? After the UN stood idly by, content to watch as the Bosnians were massacred, at least The Hague is trying to prosecute the perpetrators. Sadly, that effort is not going well in Hans-Christian Schmid’s Storm (trailer here), opening Friday in New York.

Hannah Maynard is prosecuting a Bosnian-Serb accused of war crimes in a maddeningly long, drawn out trial. However, it may all be for naught when her star witness is exposed as a fabricator and commits suicide shortly thereafter. Still, something about his behavior and that of his sister, Mira Arendt, arouses her suspicions. If he was not present when the atrocities in question occurred, perhaps she was. Not surprisingly, Mira is reluctant to even talk to the prosecutor, let alone testify.

Like any government office, the court is a hotbed of political infighting and bloated egos. Her boss, Keith Hayward, is skillful at navigating those roiling waters, but she only trusts him so far. Fortunately she has the support of her lover, Jonas Dahlberg, a jowly older Scandinavian EU representative. Given some rope by Hayward, she learns Arendt did indeed witness some of the events in question. Yet, what happened to her afterwards was far worse—but not covered by Maynard’s original indictment.

Storm is a German-Danish-Dutch co-production directed by a German starring a Romanian actress as a Bosnian, but its lingua franca is English, with some subtitled German, Bosnian, and Serbian thrown in for good measure. It might be an international affair, but it hardly engenders confidence in aspiring world-governing bodies like the international court.

Though they might be jaded, Storm’s supporting players give the film real depth and character. Rolf Lassgård gives a richly nuanced performance as the world-weary Dahlberg, completely commanding the screen in his scenes. Even his deep, haggard voice is intriguing. As the serpentine Hayward, Stephen Dillane’s work is also quite finely calibrated, always keeping the audience of balance, while maintaining complete credibility.

While Storm is well stocked with interesting character actors, the leads are more of a mixed bag. Romanian Anamaria Marinca is fast becoming one of the great international screen actors of the day. After unforgettable work in 4 Months 3 weeks and 2 Days, and a small but compelling turn in Five Minutes of Heaven, she again makes a strong impression as Arendt, convincingly conveying a wide spectrum of emotions, including fear, anger, and resolve. As written though, the character of Maynard is not particularly sympathetic or well developed, and New Zealander Kerry Fox never really fleshes it out.

Written by Schmid and Bernd Lange, Storm is a very smart (and cynical) film, up until the utterly unbelievable Hollywood-style ending. Still, Storm is hardly the first film to have trouble wrapping things up. For the most part, it is a fascinating depiction of the limits of international criminal law and a painful reminder of the crimes committed against humanity by the Bosnian-Serbs and their Serbian allies. It opens at the Quad this Friday (10/30).

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