Calling the Ghosts (Mandy Jacobson & Karmen Jelincic)

Rating: **1/2 (out of ****)

I've had to summon a fair amount of courage to admit that I found this documentary about the rape and torture of women in Bosnia/Herzegovina to be "only so-so," because in dismissing the film I may appear to be dismissing the suffering that its subjects recount. Nothing could be further from my mind; what happened (and continues to happen, albeit somewhat less overtly) in the former Yugoslavia was horrific and terrifying. Calling the Ghosts, however, succeeds only fitfully in inspiring horror and terror; like the recent Predictions of Fire, it's an uninspired, rote exploration of a subject that demands better. Co-directors Jacobson and Jelincic rely mostly on talking-heads interviews with two survivors, attorney Jadranka Cigelj and judge Nusreta Sivac, to convey the unthinkable experience of internment in the Omarska prison camp, and while I admire and respect both of these women for their fortitude and bravery, I must note with some embarrassment that their tales and personalities fall somewhat short of riveting. Speaking in brusque, matter-of-fact tones of their ordeals, and omitting all but the most basic details, they manage to make incarceration without trial and rape and repeated beatings seem like a minor irritation, a bummer. Am I suggesting that trauma victims are only interesting if they're weeping or cursing or gnashing their teeth? Perhaps I am, in a way; one of film's primary advantages over text is its superior ability to depict human emotion -- even the most brilliant description of joy is less expressive than a smile -- and all we really get in Calling the Ghosts is facts, in which case I'd rather have read a good book on the subject. In short, this film did not move me -- which is pretty remarkable, really. Village Voice critic Georgia Brown found herself in "a state of raw agony" while watching it, though, so maybe I'm just the wrong gender, or insufficiently empathetic. I don't think so -- I think Ms. Brown is responding more to the film's subject than to the film per se -- but it may well be me. It has been before.