BERLIN/SARAJEVO (Reuters) - A powerful Bosnian drama examines how people living in a Westernized, multi-cultural society and those observing a strict interpretation of Islam can co-exist, if at all.
“On the Path”, which has its premiere at the Berlin film festival on Thursday, is essentially a love story between Luna and Amar, both Muslims by birth who are living what would seem a typical life for a young Sarajevo couple.
But they grow apart when Amar, who loses his job, joins a Muslim commune on an isolated island where his faith is revived.
He adopts a radically more orthodox approach toward religion, his relationship and life in general.
Amar quits drinking alcohol and smoking, refrains from sex before marriage and suggests that the couple’s inability to conceive a child may be God’s punishment for a sinful lifestyle.
Luna cannot get to grips with the changes in the man she loves, and tensions come to the surface when she witnesses a Muslim friend of Amar’s marrying a young girl, his second wife, which she says is against the law.
God’s law, Amar replies, is above that of Bosnia’s, raising another of the film’s key issues.
Amar, director Jasmila Zbanic said in a recent interview, “slips into something that could be described as a more radical religion, he is attracted by the ideas of Wahhabism.”
The number of followers of the puritanical Sunni Muslim Wahhabi sect has grown in Bosnia in recent years, partly under the influence of Islamic foreigners, some of whom remained after fighting alongside Bosnian Muslims during the 1992-95 war.
The phenomenon hit the headlines this month when police raided a Bosnian village which is home to Wahhabis, made seven arrests and seized weapons and ammunition.
On the Path is careful not to take sides.
“I wasn’t interested to follow that process in some documentary way but was rather interested in a love story, in a universal subject of what happens when a partner suddenly changes, what is the way we react to this,” Zbanic told Reuters.
Amar is confident his path to piety is the correct one that brings him peace and comfort, while Luna reacts in a way more recognizable to most Western audiences, questioning the changes in Amar and challenging him to return to her way of life.
Most characters are still scarred by the war and some appear to be turning to conservative Islam to help them cope.
“The world has become much more religious than before,” said Zbanic, who first had the idea for the movie when a Muslim man refused to shake her hand when they met.
“In the case of Bosnia, studies showed that turning to religion was a consequence of post-war depression and dissatisfaction,” added the director, who won the 2006 Golden Bear for best film in Berlin with her debut feature “Grbavica”.
“Religion has entered our education system, from kindergartens to primary schools, which wasn’t the case before the war.
“The Wahhabi movement is a form of radical Islam that people here say did not exist before in Bosnia, where Islam had co-existed with other major religions and was much softer and more liberal.
“On the other hand, Wahhabi followers whom I have met say this form of Islam is the original, pure and unspoiled Islam.”
Reporting by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Steve Addison