Harrison's Flowers

2002, Movie, R, 130 mins

Review

HARRISON'S FLOWERS
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Like Michael Winterbottom's WELCOME TO SARAJEVO (1997), based on UK photojournalist Michael Nicholson's Natasha's Story, this French-financed, English-language feature has its roots in personal experience: Co-screenwriter Isabel Ellsen shot the Balkan conflict (and others) and wrote about it in Je voulais voir la guerre (2000). And like Winterbottom, writer/director Elie Chouraqui uses the eyes of war correspondents as windows onto a misery that much of the world ignored as it unfolded, but which has inspired a diverse body of films (indigenous and not), including PRETTY VILLAGE, PRETTY FLAME (1996), THE WOUNDS (1998), UNDERGROUND (1995), SAVIOR (1998), VUKOVAR (1994), NO MAN'S LAND (a 2001 Best Foreign-Language Film nominee), CABARET BALKAN (1998) and BEHIND ENEMY LINES (2001). New York, 1991: Pulitzer Prize-winning Newsweek photographer Harrison Lloyd (David Strathairn) has had enough: Feeling his "luck bank is down to zero," Harrison wants to stay home, tend his hothouse orchids and reacquaint himself with his passionately devoted wife, Sarah (Andie McDowell), and their two small children. But Harrison's editor (Alun Armstrong) persuades him to take one last assignment, just some minor-league ethnic skirmish in Yugoslavia. Hindsight, of course, confers the knowledge that there's nothing minor about what's going on in the bloody Balkans, and Harrison is soon reported missing and presumed dead. But Sarah is sure that if he were really dead, she'd know instinctively. So defying all advice and the dictates of common sense, she entrusts her children to her brother and takes a plane to what turns out to be Hell on Earth. Fortunately, Sarah quickly runs into a group of photojournalists, including high-strung, perpetually hopped-up Kyle Morris (Adrien Brody), who's feeling guilty about having had words with Harrison just before his disappearance, and phlegmatic Irishman Marc Stevenson (Brendan Gleeson). When they can't persuade Sarah to go home, they agree to accompany her to Harrison's last known location, Vukovar. The epicenter of the fighting, Vukovar is the last place any sensible person would go voluntarily, but go they do, picking up Harrison's best friend, Yaeger (Elias Koteas), along the way and bearing witness to one horror after another: Women raped and murdered, children and old people slaughtered, towns reduced to rubble and tears. Making such a tragedy the backdrop to a love story risks trivializing it, though Chouraqui no doubt intended the film to affirm love's power to help people endure almost unimaginable horror. Its U.S. release postponed after the attack on the World Trade towers, this film instead wound up opening shortly after the abduction and murder in Pakistan of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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