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average rating is 4 out of 5


Patrick Foley


Posted on:

Mar 26, 2023

Film Reviews
Directed by:
Sabina Vajraca
Written by:
Sabina Vajraca
Magdalena Zivalic-Tadic, Helena Vukovic, Muhamed Hadzovic

A stunning true story of a friendship that crosses ethnic, religious, national and generational boundaries is told in Sevap/Mitzvah, a short Bosnian drama set in the backdrops of two wars.


In 1945, Jews are being rounded up in Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia. Terrified of being captured, Rifka Kabiljo (Magdalena Zivalic-Tadic) does all she can to keep her family hidden. When her friend Zejnaba Hardaga (Helena Vukovic), a Muslim woman tries to help, the pair face resistance from sceptical cousin Izet (Muhamed Hadzovic). Many years later, during the Bosnian war, it is Zejnaba whose life is at risk, and Rifka who can offer salvation.


A brilliantly realised short focusing on a story of friendship and heroism that many viewers will be unaware of, Sevap/Mitzvah is an impressive and worthy drama that captures the brutality of ethic violence. Quickly establishing its historical setting and the perilous context in which Rifka lives and how her friendship with Zejnaba places them both in danger, the film wastes little time in jumping to intense and captivating scenes in which Nazi occupiers hunt the pair down. The character of Izet shows that threat comes from within and without, whilst adding further complexity to their circumstance as he considers Rifka’s presence a threat to their entire family. These ultimately normal people being swept up by a existential threat, and having the essences of their characters tested, is where the film’s ultimate message comes from: that it takes good people to take action to prevent evil from succeeding, and that the small actions of one person can have wider, rewarding consequences.


The film recreates wartime Bosnia brilliantly. This Sarajevo feels alive, lived in, and multicultural. Viewers will truly feel a sense of disdain and despondency as they see it being tarnished by the Nazis, and destroyed by war in two separate periods in history. The film’s use of radio broadcasts as the transition from the 40s to the 90s takes place, with the words being spoken equally applicable to both eras, is a striking and innovative moment that captures the strife of the country immaculately. Costume design is similarly effective, though at times characters look slightly too pristine considering the desperate conditions in which they are living.


Magdalena Zivalic-Tadic and Helena Vukovic are a fantastic leading pair, with the necessary chemistry to convincingly portray friends with a bond strong enough to resist the overwhelming conditions that threaten to divide them. Muhamed Hadzovic brings complexity to the role of Izet – a man whose bigotry will be notable to viewers but whose argument that the risk of hiding Rifka brings great danger unignorable. Rajko Cajic’s Nazi officer is a less ambiguous threat, but one that doesn’t add a great deal to the film. Audience knowledge of the Holocaust ought to make the threat of the Nazis obvious, and an implied personal connection to Zejnaba feels undercooked and unexplored.


Despite its harrowing setting and tragic backdrop, Sevap/Mitzvah is ultimately a film of hope. It takes a worthy true story and does it justice by emphasising that even in the darkest of circumstances, good can still be found in small actions. And as a timely reminder that security is guaranteed to no-one, it carries a lesson many people today would be minded to learn.

About the Film Critic
Patrick Foley
Patrick Foley
Digital / DVD Release, Short Film, World Cinema
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