Pjer Zalica, Fuse, Bosnia, 2003.
A poignant blend of tragedy and comedy, Zalica’s Fuse shows the weird and wrongful state of affairs in Bosnia in the wake of the Yugoslav break-up wars. The film depicts the divisions among the different ethnicities that now must find a way to live together.
In the nervous, preparatory confusion leading up to a visit from US president Bill Clinton, a small Bosnian town must clean up their act in order to show the façade of a place worthy enough to be graced by the presence of an American president. Their goal is to show the great progress that has been made in the relative peace that has followed the horrible wars. The officials that are assigned to survey and take note of the progress of the town are shown to be ignorant to the obstacles and problems that Bosnia is faced with and must suddenly scramble to overcome. When the officials are visiting the townspeople with the mayor, the question about whether or not the people have or will have jobs soon, as though having a job were a matter of fact. The mayor responds that no one has jobs, that it is a reality of the economical situation and that the government is working for a solution. In addition, many of the townspeople are actually paid stand-ins from a neighboring city, put in place to give the impression that the different ethnicities now live in harmony, illuminating the absurdity of the situation that the pressure from the West has imposed.
The real problems that the Bosnian town seeks to polish over and conceal are the more serious realities of a prostitution ring and drug trafficking. The prostitutes must be swept away so that they are not seen by the officials, and the drug dealing is covered over. Furthermore, the local police put itself through rigorous reorganization to try and prove that they will be capable of protecting the president when he visits fro a speech. Part of the reorganization is to throw piles of documents out of windows in nervous hassle just ahead of the officials’ entrance.
All of the preparation that the police go through, as ordered from above, proves to be in vain. The officials inform them that they will have nothing to do with the protection of the president and are actually instructed to not even come close to Clinton but that he will arrive with his own private protection. This reality reveals an even deeper and sadder extent of absurdity in that the entire prospect of the president’s visit is predicated upon his confidence in, good will and respect toward Bosnia which turns out to be as much of an artifice as the façade that the town is trying to show off to the officials. The reality of the situation is that the visit is only happening in as afar as it is beneficial to the president himself, and any benefit that it might propose for Bosnia is disregarded.
The dynamics within the ethnically-mixed fire fighter squad, of which one of the main characters is a part, is another focal point of interest. Though one of the members, the main character’s friend and colleague, is appalled by the idea of needing to work along side a couple of Serbians, he has little choice in the matter. The ethnic mixing of the fire fighter squad is part of the façade of peace and brotherly harmony that the town’s government wants to show the visiting Americans, and by extension, as they assume, the world. They want to prove that post war Bosnia is cultured and civilized. By the end of the film, in the face of tragedy, the four members come together in mutual grief for the suicide of the protagonist’s father.
Such as in the case of the mentally instable father, the film is punctuated throughout with instances of grim reality between the long comedic sequences. One of the reasons that the film works so well is that the problems and concerns that the town faces, in how it learns about itself and its inner dynamics, though they often are of corruption, are stretched to the limits of absurdity. The diverse, and bizarre problems that the town attempts to disguise are given a sense of unity among one another through this brand of satirical comedy, as did Peter Bacso in The Witness though Bacso’s was more extreme. In the case of Fuse Zalica didn’t want the humor to totally detract from the seriousness of the issues. Such is the tragic appeal of the mine that wounds the protagonist’s love interest early in the film, as well as the father’s depression and delusions.
The father has never gotten over the fact that his older son was killed during the war. Throughout the film he believes that he sees and talks to his son. He also demands from the authorities that they work to rescue the children that are still POWs or dead on enemy grounds. At the end of the film when it is discovered that the dead son did not die at war at all, but was killed by a local gangster, the father falls even deeper into his delusional depression. Finally, at the end as Clinton’s motorcade is approaching the center of town where he is set to deliver his speech, the father commits suicide by leaking gas into his house and lighting a cigarette. The house explodfes with a terrible sound. Clinton’s secret police are frightened and they scatter, taking Clinton’s limo away in nervous escape. The father’s living son is a fire fighter and so as he makes his way toward the smoke, in a moment of intense realization, he sees that it was his own house, where his father was, that had exploded. In front of the shell of his home, in the only moment of anger that he reveals throughout the entire film, the protagonist punches the mayor for not caring. As he grieves, his fellow co-fire fighters gather around him and hug. There is no tension in this tender image of grieving between the Bosnian and Serb workers, only human compassion.
Fuse seems to suggest that the greatest problems that remain for Bosnia in the aftermath of the Yugoslav wars are the lingering effects of those very wars. The bombs, whether landmines infields or insanity in people, that remain along with the aftershock pain that is still associated with the horror of those wars. The film sees these as the far more significant issues, as oppose to the political games that so many try to play with the world powers of the West, such as is depicted in this film where it is rendered absurd and meaningless. For Fuse the real issues for Bosnia and Serbia are those intangible scars of the past, and the effects that still exist, often ignored, from them.