Most of the press surrounding Ahmed Imamovic’s debut feature film Go West has focused on the controversy the film generated in its native Bosnia where it was the first domestic feature to really grapple with queer issues. It sure makes the film sound important but does little to prepare viewers for the visual feast that Imamovic has created.
It’s the outset of the Bosnian war, and Kenan, a Muslim, and his lover Milan, a Bosnian Serb, attempt to flee Serb death squads out to kill Muslims and queers, but are forced to hide in Milan’s home village while they wait for fake papers.
In order to keep the Serb militias from finding Kenan’s circumcised penis — proof that he’s a Muslim — Kenan disguises himself as a woman. Hilarity manages to ensue even against the backdrop of human misery that one expects during the Yugoslav wars.
The real star of the film is Imamovic’s camerawork which uses wide-angle lenses to achieve a depth of detail that forces viewers to examine every aspect of a nation falling apart as if searching for the cause of social collapse.
In its scenic locations, the film presents Bosnia not so much as a foreign country but as a foreign planet whose barren, gray surface barely conceals the beauty it once sowed, and barely sustains the squabbling people who still inhabit it.
Unfortunately, the gay lovers’ story is a tepid affair marred by melodramatic acting. Much more interesting performances are given by Rade Serbedzija as Milan’s cowboy-hat wearing, one-time Texas immigrant father, and Mirjana Karanovic as the village bicycle. There’s also an ill-advised framing sequence that appears meant to set the scene for the war but just robs the film of its immediacy.
But don’t be too disappointed by the lack of a strong gay relationship at the centre of the film. This is much less a story about two-gay-men-against-all-odds than it is a portrait of war’s capacity to corrupt beauty wherever it is found.