In what is perhaps the most disturbing and moving part of Dubina dva (Depth Two, Ognjen Glavonić, 2016), a female voice narrates the events of late March 1999 in the village of Suva Reka in Kosovo, a province that was at the time still part of the Republic of Serbia.1 Those were also the first days of NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia, a country that had already been reshaped by several wars, with only Serbia and Montenegro remaining as federated states. And although the nature of this military operation is not the subject of this article, one cannot go ahead without mentioning a couple of caveats to avoid further misunderstandings. 

Bringing into question the role and expansionism of NATO, however justified it may be, has recently come too close to outright revisionism and denial. It usually solicits a bizarre ontology that regards nation-states too highly, making them the only actors and total expressions of identity and political will. By this kind of reasoning, one flattens the complexity of what a given country is while also creating monolith subjects awkwardly capable of mundane sentiments: somehow it has become reasonable to think of big powers as entities naturally expected to feel threatened, however vague and out of reach the arguments about some uncertain future may be. 

Dynamics of war are, of course, more complex and the point to be made is never to neglect the existing power relations in society, considering the status of individuals and different groups, collectives, activists, minorities, or artists. That is why any narrative that puts Serbia in a position of a pure and passive victim of foreign intervention comes close to obliterating the actual victims of Serbian aggression, namely the Albanian population targeted because of its ethnicity.2 

It might also unfairly neglect the work and activism of those in Serbia who have tried to confront these issues. The task is ungrateful as it goes against the common sense understanding of the recent past, which dwells in relativization pushed by conspiracy theories and endless whataboustism while ignoring evidence gathered by competent research.3 Operating in such an environment demands a certain degree of courage and brings the usual risks of reprehension, including personal threats and defamation in the tabloid media. One quickly gets labelled as a traitor, foreign agent, or autophobe.

The crew behind Depth Two underwent just that treatment back in 2016. The reaction came, perhaps, because the film points to the systemic nature of war crimes, implicating the larger structures of the state in torture, persecution, mass executions, and complex coverup operations. Therefore, in a country where narratives of the past recur to nationalistic epics made of sacrificial battles and heroes, one finds hierarchies, orders, secret meetings, putrefied bodies, unidentified men in black cars who threaten others, police officers reaching chests of women to take money from their clothes, lifetime pensions given to assure silence. The worst is that the horror of all this is current, the very substance of our present time, so suddenly everyone can feel implicated.

To show this, however, it isn’t necessary to actually show it, but, paradoxically, to keep it absent – or, to be precise, missing from the image. All the oblivion in cultural memory is always accompanied by a material absence: places where war crimes happened weren’t marked by plaques, monuments, or memorial centres. The locations remain virtually empty, deprived of physical objects that could indicate acknowledgment and condemnation. Or, to put it differently, these places haven’t received any intervention that could establish a different point in time, a turning point, a moment of consciousness that inscribes the violent event into memory. Through the film, that instance of consciousness might be the viewer’s experience.  

Therefore, what one finds in many close-up images of Depth Two are physical inscriptions of trauma, indexical imprints such as red stains in children’s clothes, bullet cavities on walls, or ruined buildings covered by the uninterrupted action of time (and time only) in the form of peeled paint or thick layers of dust. In other moments, there are beautiful wide shots of river coasts, forests, or flat lands (and, of course, this is a horrific beauty, like the one of Spinalonga filmed by Jean-Daniel Pollet).4 Sometimes, there are unexpected shapes and materials in the landscape, such as garbage and plastic bags being held by treetops. 

Some of these elements seem to be figured a bit like in a Hitchcock film, as a disorder of the visible that captivates the gaze not so much in the name of suspense, but to invite intrigue – how are all these things related to the narration presented in the audio that runs throughout the film? As we find out, this intrigue is less of a suspenseful plot and more a juxtaposition of elements within the anachronism between past events and present-day images of seemingly empty locations. Landscape, as it turns out, is never innocent and self-sufficient in meaning, but rather embroiled in montage and narration.

The decision not to show explicitly either the body or the action is entangled with the long history of post-war cinema and still finds an unavoidable reference in the text “De l’abjection” by Jacques Rivette.5 Published in 1961, this critique of the film Kapo (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1960) has been influential to the point of later being openly taken as a dogma by Serge Daney. He, admitting having never seen Kapo, sided with Rivette.6 The central issue is precisely the showing of something, and the means employed to do it, hence the famous and exhausted allusion to the “tracking shot of Kapo”: a girl falls towards an electrified barbed wire while the camera moves forward to carefully frame a raised arm of what has just become a dead body. This example has been so wildly appropriated that its significance became larger than Kapo, assuming a status of a token that stands for varying and usually condemnable ways of showing. In whatever case, one falls short and feels cheap or exploitative (pornography) by presenting something, typically missing the moral repercussions. 

The failure of showing has sometimes been understood not as a failure of the chosen approach but of the very nature of a subject that is, in itself, unrepresentable. The Holocaust extermination camps are such a case. The cruelty of the intentions, methods, and scope of suffering establish a ground zero, an instance of unspeakable horror that lays below (or beyond) the reach of language. A film such as Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985) tries to address the unrepresentable through testimonies; these, however, don’t just provide strict narrative evidence through speech but also allow the survivors to shape their memories in the contingency of the film shot. The trauma develops as a figuration of bodies and gestures accompanied by hesitant voices and terrifying silences, the audible and visible traces of the unrepresentable.  

In Depth Two, however, the speech is primarily extracted from archive materials (i.e. interviews) and court proceedings; therefore, it is highly informative, a result of prepared statements with accurate references to people and places that establish a chronology and provide evidence. The testimony of the survivor Shyhrete Berisha, for example, is intercut on two occasions by the digitally altered voice of a deposition given by a protected witness, a member of the police unit that perpetrated the crime. Another angle is brought in to illuminate the same event. In both cases, the voice occurs less like a phenomenology of an emerging subjectivity than a provider of external information. Characters matter for what they can account for, so everything stays grounded in the fittings of the crime’s more comprehensive, structural nature. The survivor’s voice, however, is still very personal. The fact that potential themes such as individual backgrounds and personal relationships, which have been brutally disrupted by violence, are somehow forcibly disregarded for the benefit of establishing facts makes the implied emotions – another form of absence – that much more allusive and powerful. 

Throughout Depth Two, the unrepresentable is left to flourish in the negative space of intrigue and deduction, in the void of temporality and oscillating assertiveness between the spoken word and the unstable or lacking figuration. Again, one could go back to “De l’abjection” and the reference to Nuit et brouillard (Night and Fog, Alain Resnais, 1955). The stable lateral tracking shots inside the former concentration camps are among the critical aspects of this film, made roughly ten years after the war. Unlike Kapo, the images and the action are not reconstitutions of the past but contemporary sights of the empty spaces where prisoners were once held. Barbed wires are still there, but the bodies are absent. 

The same can be said, for example, of the barbed fences in the beginning shots of Méditerranée (Jean-Daniel Pollet, 1963). But, in this case, the subject matter and the lacunar depth between sound and image juxtaposition is even more significant and mysterious: it reaches the whole Mediterranean. In the same manner, numerous films do not stop at the recent traumatic past but go much further to antiquity, ruminating lyrically over the vestiges of past civilizations felt by the presence of ruins or classic sculptures while engaging with volcanoes, mountains, or climate phenomena that evoke the intangibility of elements such as clouds or wind – one might consider Le mepris (Contempt, Jean-Luc Godard, 1963), Bassae (Jean-Daniel Pollet, 1964), Cesarée (Marguerite Duras, 1978), and Il dialogo di Roma (Roman Dialogue, Marguerite Duras, 1984), to name just a few.7

It is particularly tempting to think of Le camion (The Lorry, Marguerite Duras, 1977), which is obviously associable with the trucks in Depth Two. Glavonić’s film was made during the survey for locations meant to be used in his first feature project Teret (The Load, 2018). And quite similarly, The Lorry is a film about a film that doesn’t exist, except for the script that is eventually read and discussed between the writer-director and Gérard Depardieu. The disjunction of image and sound is radical here, especially the degree of hollowness among the constitutive elements, as they stimulate the imagination to the level of a work of literature. Ultimately, social class is obliquely addressed while the potential project of a film mirrors, in some way, the unfulfilled revolution (it is the late ‘70s, the brink of postmodernity). 

Depth Two is, in this sense, narrower in its range and it certainly doesn’t invoke another film project as a vast meta-reference. The lacunar poetics we find in Duras, nevertheless, is corresponded in Depth Two not so much by the lyricism of the text but by the strength of the spoken testimony superimposed by an image that doesn’t serve as a simple illustration. The loose accuracy in this rapport of speech and image oscillates through the film and always leaves a degree of abstraction – not the absence of the figuration per se, but of the theme or subject. It is, therefore, a contemporary variation on absence, in line with many post-Holocaust films that have combined the moral and political imperatives of the unrepresentable and the formal recourse to abstraction, something that already happened within the larger scope of art (one could go back and think of Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square, 1915, as the ultimate example of not showing).

A detachment is also felt in the changing viewpoints of the image, its composition, legibility, transparency, and opaqueness. There are close diagonal angles (in the pizzeria), dark shots with long expositions of fleeting light, narrow depth of field over road traffic, steady lateral takes across landscapes8, panning axis movements near a water stream inside a forest, slow zooming into a government building, enlargements of maps and forensic evidence displayed on a computer screen. These resources seem to modulate without fully enclosing the meaning of narration. Above all, they don’t represent a body set in space. They can hardly be described at any moment as a projection of subjectivity, of a particular sight, being largely non-anthropomorphic in composition or relative movement. 

In the epilogue, after the mention of the president and his signature, the tone changes as speech ceases in the face of a vast graveyard. The silence of grief, accentuated by the location sound of falling rain, turns gradually into a sparkling fire as details of personal belongings emerge in extreme close-ups. The torn textures of clothing, notebooks with children’s drawings, fragments of tissues, stained trademarks of garments, perforated and burnt blouses, soaked personal documents with glimpses of victims’ faces – all these elements shape, within the image, the inscriptions of the violence that has been told up to that point. 

The most significant leap in abstraction happens within this sequence, ending with high-speed archival footage (apparently scientific films) displaying the mysterious growth of biological matter. A molecular level is reached; a seed opens, and branches quickly spread out. Just like the very long zoom that starts inside the infinite abyss contained within a bullet hole of a blouse, these images seem to reach for something more intangible than the conspiracy to hide a mass killing – perhaps a form of transcendence that, however, doesn’t seem powerful enough to retroactively change or illuminate the whole film. Still, it is the most radical gesture of abstraction, one that could absorb the whole intrigue – and us with it.


  1. This article is primarily based on personal notes taken after the presentation of Depth Two during the Regional School of Transitional Justice organized by the Humanitarian Law Center, Belgrade, in December of 2021.
  2. The current vice president of the Serbian National Assembly is Božidar Delić, former commander of the 549th Motorized Brigade of the Yugoslav Army during the Kosovo conflict. In the war zones under his authority, more than 2100 Albanian civilians were killed in the municipalities of Suva Reka, Prizren, Gjakova, and Orahovac. See “Istražiti umešanost Božidara Delića i Svetozara Andrića u ratne zločine,” Humanitarian Law Center, Belgrade, 18 August 2022.
  3. The continuous rehabilitation of nationalist leaders in recent years goes in line with the relativization of the partisan antifascist struggle; the nefarious aim is to equate socialist Yugoslavia with fascist and Nazi regimes, a revisionist equivalency that must be unambiguously rejected.
  4. L’ordre (Order, Jean Daniel Pollet and Maurice Born, 1973).
  5. Jacques Rivette, “De l’abjection,” Cahiers du Cinéma, Issue 120 (June 1961): pp. 54-55.
  6. Serge Daney, “The Tracking Shot in Kapo,” in Postcards from the Cinema, Paul Douglas Grant, trans. (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2007), pp. 17-38.
  7. For a discussion of landscape theory or fūkeiron, see Branislav Dimitrijević, “Landscape of Crime,Peščanik, 24 November 2018.
  8. An article by Pavle Levi, “The Cinema of Cleansed Landscapes (On Image Politics after Yugoslavia),” published in this dossier of Senses of Cinema, discusses the theme of landscape and film within a larger regional context.