With a title at odds with its script’s often subdued tone, Storm is both a reminder of the atrocities that can take place in a supposedly civilised society and an examination of the political and personal compromises needed to try to build the New Europe.
Arriving at The Hague’s war crimes tribunal section, prosecutor Hannah Maynard (Kerry Fox) is handed the job of pushing through the final stages of a trial against a Serbian ex-soldier, Goran Duric (Drazen Kuhn), who has been charged with war crimes while running for political office.
When it becomes apparent that her star witness, Alen (Kresimir Mikic), has been lying, Maynard and her colleagues delve deeper into events from fifteen years previously, uncovering a series of lies, cover-ups and confused loyalties which centre on Alen’s sister, Mira (Anamaria Marinca).
A drama focussing on the aftermath of war in the Balkans and set within the confines of the red tape-swathed Hague may not sound like an appealing evening’s entertainment, but director and co-writer Hans-Christian Schmid has opted to pitch this as a thriller rather than a docudrama.
Storm assumes of its audience a certain level of knowledge of the Serbian situation circa 1993, but those who haven’t read the newspapers diligently over the last decade will still be able to understand that the accusations levelled against Duric would be terrible in any court of law.
The success of the script is in making the conflict personal and therefore relatable to its viewers, Mira’s explanation of her experiences as a girl at the hands of soldiers done without showy flashbacks or hysterics.
Perhaps ironically for a film which recalls conflicts from the past, Storm also also highlights the battles taking place at the heart of international politics in the present, as Balkan countries vie to join the European Union.
Writers Bernd Lange and Schmid note that it might be tempting to tar all inhabitants of a country with the evil perpetrated by those in power, but at some point the next generation needs to move on with their own lives, to go to university, get jobs abroad and disassociate themselves from the crimes of their fathers.
Storm succeeds in raising these issues without coming across as preachy, the voice of each character lending themselves to discussion of the complexities thanks to a well-crafted script.
At the centre of it all is Maynard: stubborn and self-assured, she’s determined to get to the bottom of the mystery of why Alen lied and how she can keep her case from derailing completely. Refreshingly, the character is neither invincible nor absolutely in the right, Fox relishing the opportunity to portray a strong woman with imperfections.
Anamaria Marinca is equally impressive as Mira, a mother and wife trying to forget her past by bottling it up and never telling a soul. Her pain is tangible and her actions understandable, her refusal to discuss anything in detail for much of the film ensuring that when she does confront her feelings it means something.
Shot with handheld cameras and given a muted look which suits its subject matter, the style is particularly effective in a sequence when Mira searches for her son in a grey, empty school building and in an early courtroom scene where close-ups depict the growing anxiety of the prosecution as they watch their case dissolve in front of them.
Balancing numerous plot threads while displaying more political savvy than most thrillers, Storm manages to be an intelligent and thought-provoking drama which never demeans the tragedy which inspired it.