Sisterhood Prevails Amongst 78 Days of NATO Bombs

78 Days

In a highly suspect moment in the final season of The Crown, Peter Morgan tackles the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia with remarkable historical simplicity. Tony Blair (Bertie Carvel) makes a speech to the Americans, seemingly convincing them singlehandedly that dropping bombs on former Yugoslavia is the right thing to do. This is then seen as a great success of Blair’s premiership, contrasted with the Iraq War, which is later seen as a terrific disaster. 

In Operation Allied Force, NATO attacked Serbia to stop Milosevic’s murderous campaign in Kosovo, relentlessly bombing the country for two and a half months. This led to the death of anywhere between 500 (Human Rights Watch) and 2,500 (Serbian government) civilians. At a time when bombing civilians in the name of “rooting out evil” is all around us (Ukraine, Gaza, Yemen), NATO’s refusal to acknowledge its mistakes, and to condemn current atrocities, ensures that simplistic narratives, such as The Crown, loom large in the popular imagination. 

In Emilija Gašić’s 78 Days (2024), playing in the Bright Future section, the talented debut director utilises documentary aesthetics to centre the very human, and very painful, cost of living in the shadow of conflict. Using a Hi8 camcorder to capture the over-exposure, dark contrasts and low-quality grain of 90s home video, this found-footage film reminds us that nothing is simple when bombs rain from the sky; when children live in fear; when the spectre of death looms large over every single childish decision. 

The film follows three sisters, the older 17-year-old Sonja, mostly holding the camera, her jealous 15-year-old sister Dragana and the impetuous, often hilarious, seven-year-old Tijana. All debut performances by Milica Gicić, Tamara Gajović and Viktorija Vasiljević, their relationships alternate between playing, fighting, stealing each other’s things and jostling over the camera. It’s captured with real intimacy (and staged amateurishness) by cinematographer Ines Gowland, often using painful one-on-one conversations to delve deep into what makes these girls truly tick. 

The aesthetic is so well-realised, that I was initially duped into thinking I was watching a documentary; from the video footage of news reports leaving the country, to their father’s last birthday party before he goes off to war, to the planes screaming over the sky (this sound noticeably louder than anything else in the movie). As a 90s kid, everything but the planes and the bombs feels remarkably familiar. Only halfway through did the presence of a script become obvious. 

Not once is Kosovo mentioned. The children exist in a state of tragic naivety, often more concerned with boys and adventure than the painful reality around them. They are as far away from Serbian military atrocities as I am, yet due to an accident of birth, they are the ones living in fear of dying; just like innocent civilians today in Ukraine, Russia, Gaza, Israel and Yemen. 

With shades of found-footage horror movies, especially Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008), which used its limited perspective to suggest greater horrors lingering outside the edges of the frame, 78 Days uses its limited runtime of 80 minutes to avoid more traditional narrative beats, stressing the tragic situation through the charm of the young performers and their very normal (and very funny) squabbles, reconciliations and enduring sisterly love. With the 25th anniversary of the NATO bombing, the last time they ever bombed European soil, fast approaching, a small yet powerful film like this highlights the tragic cost of military campaigns, while stressing that humanity, and human love, will always find a way to prevail.  

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Redmond is the editor-in-chief of Journey Into Cinema.