Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
AFI Docs ’14: The Agreement
long after WWII, the Axis nations were fully integrated back into the
international community. In contrast, the Serbs ousted Milosevic on their own
initiative, yet they still carry baggage from the Balkan wars. If Serbia can
forge a cooperative peace with her neighbors, they all stand to gain potential
EU membership. They are not there yet, but EU diplomat Sir Robert Cooper will
try to mediate a crucial baby step. Viewers watch like UN observing flies on
the wall as negotiators from Serbia and Kosovo may or may not come to an
understanding in Karen Stokkendahl Poulsen’s The Agreement (trailer here), which screens during this year’s AFI Docs in Washington, DC.
a formative influence on Tony Blair’s foreign policy, Cooper argues the EU is
one of mankind’s greatest achievements, except when it has failed spectacularly
as it did in the Balkans. For good cinematic reasons, Poulsen gives us far more
scenes of Cooper reciting poetry (usually Auden) than pontificating on policy.
Theoretically, the film really is not about him, but his personality will
greatly shape the proceedings.
Prime Minister Edita Tahiri will represent Kosovo, facing Borko Stefanović,
Political Director of the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Apparently, they
are trying to reach an accord to allow each country to accept the other’s
documentation for border crossings, without formally recognizing Kosovo’s
independence or Serbia’s right to care. However, it is hard to get a
comprehensive sense of what the minor treaty entails, because most of their
time is spent haggling over the tiniest of words.
the staunchest of Euro-skeptics (which now includes just about all of Cooper’s
countrymen) will find The Agreement shockingly
engrossing. The really is the sausage-making side of international diplomacy,
where the power of personality is disconcertingly important. It is also
fascinating to feel our sympathies shift from one negotiator to another.
Initially, Tahiri’s aggressive posture is off-putting, especially compared to Stefanović’s
when we learn Tahiri spent months hiding in a bunker-like basement during the
war because Serb forces put a bounty on her head, it is easier to understand her
skepticism. In fact, the roles reverse as the negotiations drag on, with Stefanović’s
miscommunication threatening to undermine the deal.
ironically, all three principles (Stefanović, Tahiri, and Cooper) emerge from
the film looking like nice folks, who might have been chummy colleagues if they
all taught at the same university. Since they are always interesting company, The Agreement never feels dry. Of
course, there are also very real stakes involved—not so much the accord itself,
but the macro effort to foster something like peace in the region that it
Agreement is a film for the wonkish, but at just under an hour, it has none
of the Wiseman-esque excesses one might suspect. If you want to see Balkan
diplomats debate semantics, it is pretty darn great, sort of like a caffeinated
version of C-Span. Recommended for foreign policy eggheads, The Agreement screens tomorrow (6/19)
and Saturday (6/21) as part of the 2014 AFI Docs.
Labels: AFI Docs '14, Documentary