On opposite sides of a vast, barren street, groups of people stand idly. They stand just out of view from the main street and in the shadow of buildings towering over them. Dressed in muted colors of grey, black, and olive green, these people wait, bracing for something. A woman with blonde hair musters up some courage and darts out, crossing the street. Her action sets off of a chain-reaction in which people dash across the street – some going one way, others going the opposite way. Who are these people? The walking (sprinting) dead? Lost souls scurrying from sidewalk to sidewalk? No, these are the citizens of Sarajevo, and this is a film by Šejla Kamerić – 1395 Days Without Red.
Trained as a graphic designer and working predominately as a multi-media artist, 1395 is the first feature-length film by Kamerić. Despite the foray into a different medium, 1395 concerns the historical event that Kamerić lived through as a young girl and which manifests throughout her work – the Bosnian War. More specifically, this film is about her home city, about the Siege of Sarajevo from the perspective of the present.
Beginning on April 5th, 1992 and ending on February 29th, 1996, the siege lasted a total of 1,395 days, leaving about 10,000 people dead or missing in the city. The red in the film’s title refers to the lack of colors the citizens wore while walking through a main street nicknamed “Sniper Alley,” where sharpshooters perched on building tops and shot anything that moved. In 1395 Days Without Red, the main character is a young woman (Mirabel Verdú) moving from East to West Sarajevo, through Sniper Alley, just like the other people dotting the empty sidewalks, pathways, alleys, and streets around her. Concurrent with the street walking are shots of an orchestra rehearsing the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique in a spacious building.
The conductor in the symphony scenes, Ari Benjamin Meyers, said in an interview with Artangel that Kamerić plotted out the route Verdú takes through Sarajevo, “but the way she would walk, how fast or slow she would go, how she was breathing, her attitude would be based on music; everything about that walk was in one way or another based on music.” Synching movement to music, and by extension, music to the city, 1395 Days Without Red is some sort of city symphony.
Think of the handful of canonical city symphonies though –Berlin: Symphony of a City, Man With a Movie Camera, and Manhatta – this trio embody the joie de vivre, the rush of city life and modernity with music. 1395, however, does something different. This is not a symphony celebrating the city, but one that indicates a shadow overcasting it of an unspeakable and unforgettable trauma. Indeed, as the orchestra plays snippets of the symphony again and again, one gets a sense of the scars reopened daily for citizens walking streets that once soaked with blood. Stepping on shattered glass, seeing bullet-riddled walls, running across streets — repeat.
A turn occurs in the film though; the music seeps into Verdú as she hums a few notes of the symphony during her sojourn through the city. Now the music seems the driving force, the catalyst for perseverance. It’s preparation for “survival as a mental game,” a line Kamerić recited to herself during the production process. Or maybe it’s a piece of mental music.
– Tanner Tafelski
New York University, Cinema Studies