World War II was a time of great division, a time when friends and family were pitted against one another in order to survive. Sevap/Mitzvah tells a story of this sort, as Nazis occupy Bosnia, preparing to eliminate all of the Jews–but a muslim woman, Zejneba (Helena Vukoviċ/Dalia Kalamujiċ), the most unexpected of allies, comes to the rescue of her Jewish friends. Fifty years later that friend, Rifka (Magdalena Živaljić Tadić/Reina Selimović), has the opportunity to return the favor.
Based on a true story, a story that you wouldn’t believe if it weren’t real–Sevap/Mitzvah is simply incredible. Had no one told me that this film was based on a true story, I would have assumed that it was a narrative fabricated for cinema, one just meant to muster up some emotion and make a few dollars in the process. Knowing, however, that it’s real, that this amazing story really happened, sheds a new light on it. With that knowledge viewers are captivated, constantly trying to understand how kindness like this has ever really existed in the world. The news and social media is riddled with stories of horrible things–but Sevap/Mitzvah tells us something different, something that gives us hope and reminds us that there is still good in the world, and, even in times of war, there always has been.
This joyous feeling that Sevap/Mitzvah gives viewers is just the tip of the iceberg. Nearly every aspect of this film lends itself to success, and I’m truly impressed by what Writer-Director Sabina Vajrača is able to create and how she’s able to transition from the 1940’s to the 1990’s so quickly and effectively. Other than the fact that these things really happened, the best thing about Sevap/Mitzvah is the transition forward fifty years. Viewers aren’t initially told that time has jumped forward, but what Vajrača does is place unique items to the times front and center in order to transport viewers to specific places and time periods. A radio specific to the 90’s and other seemingly trivial items play such an important role in inviting viewers into the film–but beyond that they work to remind viewers that there is beauty even in the mundane.
I’ve said it time and time again (and it’s no secret to anyone else who watches short films) that the key to a successful short film is creating and developing accessible characters quickly and effectively. Without those characters short films can be incredibly difficult to appreciate–but Sevap/Mitzvah develops these characters in just the first few minutes. Zejneba quickly becomes the center of attention, she appeals to viewers, and her personality is a reflection of all the best things in the world. It doesn’t take long at all for viewers to become connected to the characters in Sevap/Mitzvah, and that allows the rest of the film to flow smoothly, efficiently, and in a way that ensures its success.
Whether it’s the acting, lighting, writing, or something else entirely, Vajrača and her team ensure that each and every aspect of Sevap/Mitzvah is well developed and an accurate reflection of the real world. With nearly every piece of this film accurately depicting real life, viewers are pulled in early and often, reminded that even in the darkest times and places there is beauty. It’s easy to see why Sevap/Mitzvah is so highly regarded, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it listed among the best live action short films at next year’s award ceremonies.
Written & Directed by Sabina Vajrača.
Starring Helena Vuković, Uma Fijuljanin, Sanela Krsmanović-Bistrivoda, Asja Pavlović, Magdalena Živaljić-Tadić, etc.