A banal return to religion
Despite the potential of a new movie set in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 'On the Path' doesn't succeed in overcoming its limitations.
Many recent European films have addressed the fear of fundamentalist Islam's growing strength. What makes "On the Path," written and directed by Bosnian Jasmila Zbanic, unique is the fact that, as opposed to recently produced French or British films, it discusses this subject and its consequences in a Muslim country. The main problem with the film, however, is that it does so with a script that seems to follow a guidebook for basic screenwriting. And so in the end, most of the interest the film had the potential to arouse due to its subject and its location, simply evaporates.
Luna (Zrinka Cvitesic ) and Amar (Leon Lucev ) live together and love each other. Luna is a flight attendant with Air Bosnia; Amar is an air traffic controller. Despite their love for each other, not all is right in their lives. Luna is unable to become pregnant, and as they are about to begin fertility treatments Amar, who suffers from an alcohol problem, is caught drinking on the job and suspended for six months.
Soon after, the two encounter Bahrija (Ermin Bravo ), who served in the army with Amar. Bahrija, who has since converted to Islam, suggests that Amar spend his period of suspension at an extremist Muslim camp he has built near a lake. Amar's job will be to teach the local children computer sciences.In spite of the opposition voiced by the secular Luna, who is horrified at the sight of Bahrija's wife - whose hijab covers everything except for her eyes - Amar agrees to the offer instead of addressing his alcoholism, as his employers had ordered him to do.
Here the couple's relationship begins to deteriorate, as Amar, who finds in Islam the serenity he is seeking, becomes increasingly fanatic in observing the laws of the Koran. He is not willing, for example, to have sexual relations with Luna again until they marry, and he is sure that Luna has not been able to become pregnant because they are living in sin. The decline in their relationship is described step by step, in a very predictable way - similar to an Israeli television drama following what happens when one family member becomes newly religious.
Even if here and there Zbanic delivers a degree of harsh criticism, the overall result suffers from schematic scriptwriting that undermines the dramatic and emotional effectiveness of the entire film.
The strongest aspect of the film - whose director won the Golden Bear Prize at the 2006 Berlin Film Festival for "Grbavica," which followed the relationship between a teenager and her mother, who is keeping a secret about what happened during the Bosnian war - is the way in which the director delicately introduces the memory of the war into the plot. She does so without using the traumas the two heroes experienced during the war to explain the reasons for the crisis between them. That is the only aspect of the film in which Zbanic diverges from the predictable manner in which she moves the plot forward, and it's a shame she didn't use such delicacy throughout.
Instead, she aims at a kind of minor key, which in certain cases can be an admirable cinematic quality, but in "On the Path" she seems to be holding the film back and preventing it from living up to its potential.
In the final analysis, "On the Path" is a banal film about a return to religion, basically a story that lacks the added value that good cinema is supposed to lend the plot. While the two main actors do their work skillfully, the film is able to overcome its limitations for only a few moments.
"On the Path," director and screenwriter: Jasmila Zbanic; cinematographer: Christine A. Maier; music: Bruno Jakubovic; actors: Zrinka Cvitesic, Leon Lucev, Ermin Bravo.