For Those Who Can Tell No Tales is a provoking film, which serves as a poignant reminder to Australian tourists about the often silent and traumatic histories that haunt the European cities they visit.
The exposure of this past forms the central premise of the film, based on the experience of Australian performance artist Kym Vercoe and her visit to Visegrad in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Movingly put together by Bosnian filmmaker Jasmila Zbanic, the violence that lies beneath the seemingly quiet and peaceful town is revealed by an increasingly distressed Kym, portrayed by herself.
At first the drama captures the experience of blissfully ignorant travel, complete with street dances, overfriendly locals, sensible shoes and numerous ‘selfie’ attempts. She washes her underwear in the sink, hangs it over the balcony of the hotel. These seemingly banal and ordinary actions take on another dimension, when Kym, back in Sydney, learns of the history of Visegrad and the hotel, Vilina Vlas, where she spent a restless night. Many women were raped and murdered at the hotel during the Bosnian war in the 1990s and she learns that the famous old bridge in Visegrad was the site of a massacre.
Horrified, Kym is increasingly consumed by these tragic stories and there are several Australian scenes that illustrate her distress. These scenes feel somewhat forced and do little to further the argument of the film. Yet, once Kym returns to Visegrad momentum is regained as the contrasts between the two visits are compelling and translate well to the screen. The skilful camera work begins to interrogate the cityscape, eloquently revealing both its beauty and its secret history. Zbanic’s mastery is evident also in the clever way she brings the film to its climax, adding piece by piece to the puzzle to reveal the true trauma of the historical events.
For Those Who Can Tell No Tales asks difficult questions and offers no easy answers. Although it makes gestures towards the complexities and tensions of war and its crimes, it remains bound to its outsider perspective, that is an Australian looking in on an Eastern European affair. It is worth a watch for the way Visegrad is captured on screen and as an entry point for Australians with an interest in European travel. However, for a real understanding of the traumas of the Bosnian war it would be necessary to look beyond the film, as For Those Who Can Tell No Tales – perhaps in spite of its intentions – focuses on those who can tell tales, the tourist with the camcorder in hand.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
For Those Who Can Tell No Tales opens at the Sydney Film Festival today at 4.30pm and screens again on Saturday June 7th. Tickets and more details can be found HERE.