The White Fortress (Tabija)

Directed by: Emir Kusturica
Distributed by: Game Theory Films

Written by Raúl Mendoza


European Cinema was my first venture into my love of International Films even though it should officially be Latin America, but I grew up around the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema films. I took courses on French and Italian Cinema during my time in undergrad. They did a great job at cultivating a stronger love for cinema, but I noticed that when European Cinema was discussed the Balkans were always left out of the conversation. In my opinion, if you are going to discuss the films of Federico Fellini you should also bring up the filmmakers that he influenced like Serbian director, Emir Kusturica (“The Time of the Gypsies”, “Underground”). Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of those countries in the Balkans that I have been trying to research the cinema of but most of the time their films are not distributed here in the United States. Every year I make sure to note the submissions to the Best International Feature Film category. After watching Jasmila Žbanić’s “Quo Vadis, Aida?”, I have been eagerly casting my eye toward Bosnia and Herzegovina’s submissions.

“The White Fortress” or as known in Bosnian, “Tabija,” is written, directed, and produced by Igor Drljaca (“The Archivists”, “The Waiting Room”). The film stars Pavle Cemerikic, Sumeja Dardagan, and Jasmin Geljo. The film is a co-production between Bosnia and Canada that was submitted as the official selection for the Best International Feature Film category at the 94th Academy Awards but did not make it to the shortlist. The film has since made the rounds through the festival circuit since last year and is finally being released here in the United States on April 22nd.

“The White Fortress” is not your run-of-the-mill star-crossed lovers story. In the film, we follow the journey of Faruk and Mona in post-war Sarajevo. Faruk (Pavle Cemerikic) is living with his grandmother and brother after their mother died years ago. Faruk helps his brother as they drive around a prostitute named Minela (Farah Madzic) for their boss. They also help collect scraps and sell them to their local junkyard on the side. When both don’t seem to add up Faruk resorts to shoplifting. Mona (Sumeja Dardagan) on the other hand is the daughter of a politician who will soon be sent to live in Canada. How in the world do these two end up meeting? Well, Faruk after dropping off Minela goes to a mall and in a chance encounter gives his number to Mona. After that encounter, they begin to text but against all odds try to find a way to be together. “The White Fortress” is a story about a love that is desperately trying to grow though it has no hope of fruition.

It is easy to say that this theme of Romeo and Juliet esque lovers has been translated to the screen more times than we all can count. That is true but it shouldn’t matter how many times something is done. What should matter is what one has to say with these themes and that is one of the biggest faults of this film. “The White Fortress” has many strengths like its beautiful naturalistic cinematography crafted by the director of photography, Erol Zubcevic. The cinematography constructs this beautiful space that allows us to breathe when our lovers are together while feeling the anxious boot on their necks when they are not. The music is beautifully composed and accompanies the story well. Nevertheless, you cannot make a competent film out of just a beautiful score and visuals.

“The White Fortress” is riddled with uneven character development and pacing that takes way too much time to unveil the narrative of the film. The background of the story is a class-divided Sarajevo but its commentary always feels surface level. It has a lot to work with, especially by having bits and pieces of history presented through a film Faruk watches. Sadly, it never really makes its mind up on what it is trying to say throughout its runtime. Either way, I truly appreciate this approach to an uncommon love story. I still recommend people take their time to seek these films out. It is important to diversify the films that we consume in our lives. It is only with our numbers that distributors will want to keep bringing these films out to the United States.

“The White Fortress” Trailer

“The White Fortress” enters limited limited theatrical release and VOD streaming on April 22nd.

You can follow Raúl Mendoza on Instagram, Letterboxd, Twitter, and YouTube.

Leave a Reply