Not Rated. Running time: 2 hour 5 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 1; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (1-5): 5
Do not hide your face from me.
Do not turn your servant away in anger,
you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
O God of my salvation!
If my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will take me up.
Moreover we know that to those who love God,
who are called according to his plan,
everything that happens fits into a pattern for good.
Romans 8:28 (J.B. Phillips)
Cristobal Krusen, the writer/director of my favorite apartheid film Final Solution, returns to the screen with the somber story of Sabina K. Set in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it too is based on a true story, laced with a touch of supernatural grace. Its emotional arc moves from love and hope to puzzlement and despair to near death and then back to hope and love again. As with his earlier film, Mr. Krusen directs from his own script. Bosnian actress Alena Džebo portrays the central character with such heart-tugging skill that I hope we will be seeing her in other films.
Sabina, a divorced mother of two small children, is contemplating marriage with Saša (Alban Ukaj). They both had served in the Bosnian War, he as a soldier, and she as a nurse. He obviously loves her son and daughter, and they adore him, basking in the playful attention he pours upon them, so they appear to have a happy future—except. She is Muslim and he Christian, so her narrow-minded mother no longer wants to have anything to do with her, and his parents also refuse to accept the idea of them marrying. Only their immediate circle of friends and “Aunt” Ankica, the mother of a close friend killed in the war, support them. The latter, telling them they are like her own children, invites them to her home on the island of Korčula to get married. “Love will find a way,” she affirms.
Each of them must leave Sarajevo and travel to separate cities, Saša to work for the summer at a family business, and Sabina to make a presentation on behalf of her company. Before they part he gives her an engagement ring, which she accepts. He moves his things from his mother’s apartment to Sabina’s, despite the older woman’s speaking to him privately, admonishing him not to carry out their wedding plans. Going down the stairs, Sabina asks what was said between them, and he quotes the words of Jesus, “Let the dead bury the dead.”
Her presentation a success, Sabina joins Ankica on Korčula, where they wait for word from Saša.
They wait, and they wait. No word—no phone call, no letter, not even a postcard. Her hope morphing into puzzlement, Sabina returns to Sarajevo. All his clothing and other possessions are gone. No word of explanation.
She knocks on the door of his mother, but the embittered woman not only refuses to reveal the why or the whereabouts of her son—she calls the police on her visitor when she is slow to leave. Sabina’s own parents, especially her over-bearing mother, offer no consolation or support. Her boorish ex-husband demands money for the children, his parents temporarily caring for them. Worst is to come.
After she faints at the office, Sabina’s doctor informs her that she is pregnant. She resists the demand from her family that she abort the child. When, late in her pregnancy, Sabina is told coldly by her boss that they are not renewing her annual contract, it is plain that she is now regarded as a liability, saddled with three children.
Out of work, Sabina enters what can best be described as Hell, especially when she lands in the hospital and her greedy landlord rents out her apartment to someone else. Her ex-husband sues her for child support, threatening her with complete severance from the children if she does not pay. Her life seems like a complete failure, even her first attempt by pills at suicide failing. She apparently is so ashamed that she does not reveal to her friends that she is out of work and homeless, pretending during rare encounters with them that all is well—that is when she can reach them by phone–they sometimes are hard to reach, their cheery voices telling her to leave a message.
Even though Aunt Ankica had offered lodging at her home, Sabina does not call her for help. During the day Sabina finds some shelter from the cold winter by riding the trains and at night sleeping in doorways or vacant buildings where wild dogs at one point devour her meagre food supply. An unfeeling welfare clerk informs her that she will have to wait for any public aid. She fares better with a kind guard closing the train station for the night who answers her plea for shelter by conducting her to a small room where she can bed down for the night. He gives her some food the next morning, but gives her the bad news that he will not be back to work for another three weeks, and that his mean-hearted fellow guard will run her off if she returns to the station.
As Christians are celebrating the birth of Christ, Sabina wonders why God who cared for the homeless family long ago does not care for another unwed mother today. Falling into the deep pit of black despair, she decides to commit suicide a second, and final, time.
Few films explore the daunting feeling of abandonment as well as this film. I kept wanting Saša, accompanied by sweeping music, to show up, sweep Sabina into his arms, and explain why he had been forced to stay away so long—remember that climactic scene in that grand old weeper An Affair to Remember, when Cary Grant learns why Deborah Kerr had not been able to keep their rendezvous atop the Empire State Building? Instead of this Hollywood climax, there is a very different resolution, one that includes, as mentioned at the beginning of this review, a touch of the supernatural that ought to generate some discussion. Who is that hospital janitor we see mopping the corridor outside Sabina’s room? Where did we see him before? I love the symbolism conveyed by his job, reminding me of the delightful depiction of Morgan Freeman’s character sweeping a room in Bruce Almighty.
It is no spoiler to reveal that the film’s end-note informs us that Sabina today is working with an organization that “helps pregnant women and mothers with no place to go.” You can be sure that her harrowing experience on the cold streets of Sarajevo transformed her into as sensitive and caring advocate as those women will ever have. Her story is another testimony to the wisdom of the apostle Paul’s words to the church at Rome.
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the October issue of Visual Parables.
At the present Sabina K. is making the rounds of film festivals and has not gone into theatrical release. It is available in DVD format for $19.95 at http://www.messengerfilms.com/–and is worth every penny of the price. As veteran readers of VP know, I am not a fan of the faith-based film genre, but Mr. Krusen is a Christian filmmaker who knows how to tell a good story without preaching, and does so here. I urge you to support his work, as it will enable him to tell more stories that challenge and inspire us. And while you are on his website—and have not seen his wonderful film Final Solution about an Afrikaaner led out of racism by a woman student, Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country,and the Bible as interpreted by a black pastor—then I urge you to order it as well. See my review elsewhere for my reasons for liking this film so much.