Review: The Witness
by Muriel Del Don
- Macedonian-Swiss director Mitko Panov presents his latest feature film, a manhunt in the heart of the Balkans
Almost ten years after his last film, The War Is Over was presented at the Solothurn Days in 2010, the Macedonian-Swiss director of Macedonian origins Mitko Panov returns to talk about the traumas of war, using fiction as his search engine. The result is The Witness [+see also:
film profile], a Swiss, Macedonian, Irish and Croatian co-production presented in world premiere at GIFF (Geneva International Film Festival). Mitko Panov offers his audience a thriller that focuses on a man in search of the truth, no matter the price to pay.
The international trial of Colonel Pantic, accused and charged with crimes against humanity, has been underway for many years at The Hague’s International Court. The problem is that no one dares to testify against him, terrified by the idea of facing the wrath of a man who, despite being behind bars, still enjoys considerable influence over the country.
Vince Harrington (played by Padraic Delaney, also known for playing Teddy O'Donovan in Ken Loach's The Wind That Shakes the Barley [+see also:
interview: Ken Loach
interview: Rebecca O’Brien
film profile]), a lawyer who knows the Pantic case very well, decides to leave for Former Yugoslavian in search of the only man capable of exposing and publicly accusing the colonel. This man is the former general Nikola Radin – a witness to the atrocities committed by Pantic – who has decided to tackle his inner demons by taking refuge in the Balkan Mountains.
Contrary to his expectations, Harrington’s journey turns into a manhunt in search of a truth that may never be revealed. The shy and apparently insecure Irish lawyer must come to terms with his fears by facing a level of violence he was certainly not prepared for.
He himself of Macedonian origin, the director Mitko Panov creates a tense thriller (despite the producer Gérard Monier defining it more as a western), that is unfortunately sometimes difficult to believe (why are the characters speaking to each other English in Macedonia? How can a man who has never picked up a weapon shoot so accurately?), but nevertheless commendable in its attempt to talk about what’s left after the atrocities of war. It's worth highlighting Bruno Ganz's performance, who emotionally and forcefully plays a man (the former General Radin) devastated by memories of the Balkan conflict, a man who tries to deal with the actions he committed, and what he could have done but also what did not have to do.
What’s the difference between violence legitimised by war and pure violence, perpetrated only for the pleasure of seeing another human being suffer? Nikola Radin has decided to abandon the role of the hero and has donned his poet’s hat, narrating a past that it is difficult to talk about, a cruel past that creeps into the present, like a perpetually lurking shadow.
The Witness was produced by Tipi'mages Productions and co-produced by Pirej Film Dooel, Samson Films, MP Filmska Produkcija, RTS Radio Télévision Suisse and Téléclub. Tipi'mages Productions is handling international sales.
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