The two bodies lay on the cratered, rubble-strewn road like a pair of limp dolls some child forgot. But they were very human, and very tragically murdered in the senseless cross fire of bullets and destruction that filled the Sarajevo air during the civil war between Christian Serbs and Muslim Bosnians. Bosko Brckic and Admira Ismic died, as lovers, in each others' arms, Serb and Muslim in unforgettable liebestod .
"Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo" is John Zaritsky's and Virginia Storring's wrenching exploration for "Frontline" of what brought Bosko and Admira together, and what eventually made them dare to escape their cherished city as it was drowning in blood, recrimination and self-hate. Rarely has television depicted the human cost of war with such vivid intensity, overshadowed with a terrible sense of inevitability.
Bosko and Admira fell in love at 16 just as the world was falling in love with Sarajevo, home of the 1984 Winter Olympics. Reflective of the city's multiethnic spirit, the lovers' families grew very close, despite their different backgrounds. The teens, in essence, were creating a larger family crossing religious and ethnic boundaries.
But like a bad dream of Admira's grandmother, who remembered the World War II carnage between Croats, Serbs and Muslims, the old hatreds resurfaced at the end of the Cold War. War in Croatia, to the north, eventually spread to Sarajevo. (We see the first dramatic shots fired, by Serbs, into a multiethnic crowd demonstrating for peace.)
The Montagues and the Capulets of the Balkans were once again at each other's necks, and this Romeo and Juliet were suddenly in an awful new world.
The twists and turns on the way to tragedy are surprisingly complex, bitterly ironic and better left unrevealed. But few images better sum up the war tale's horror than Bosko's old school buddy-turned-criminal, Celo, recalling his attempts as a city defense force commander to arrange the couple's escape--or Bosko's and Admira's mothers, still shaken at their cruel loss and so emotionally open in front of the camera that it is almost too much for the television, or the viewer, to bear.
* "Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo" airs at 9 tonight on KCET-TV Channel 28 and KPBS-TV Channel 15, and at 8:30 p.m. on KVCR-TV Channel 24.