The Unforgiven, 2017

Could you accept an apology from a friend forgetting your birthday? Could you excuse someone for hurting your feelings? Would you be able to pardon your partner for cheating on you? What about forgiving someone who has murdered innocent people? Esad Landzo, the focus of film The Unforgiven, is looking to answer the question that has haunted him for the last 20 years. A convicted war criminal, Landzo is seeking out the former prisoners he abused asking for their forgiveness.

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“My name is Esad Landzo, I used to be a guard at Celebici Prison Camp. All my life since my trial is a lie. I need my life back. I just want to apologize for what I did. I really did bad things. Would I be able to forgive somebody like me?” (The Unforgiven)

At 19 years old, Landzo was radicalised during the civil war in former Yugoslavia. Told he was too young to join the front line, Esad became a prison guard at Celebici, a prison camp in Bosnia in which Serbians were held captive. Fuelled by anger, power and the belief that he was invincible, Esad was infamous for torturing and killing prisoners in the camp. Testimonies from survivors include soldiers entering the base at night and beating prisoners with clubs, several accounts of sexual abuse, torture and wilful killing of inmates.

In 1996 Esad was arrested, judged and found guilty for “crimes that were premeditated, savage and brutal” by the International Criminal Court. In 2006 he was released after serving ten years. Today, he claims “there is no life in his homeland for people with a past like his, as such he currently resides in a suburb of Helsinki.

Screenshot 2018-02-13 at 17.15.54 - Edited(image found on

In 75 minutes, Danish director Lars Feldballe-Petersen opens the floodgate to a wealth of concerns and questions. We, the audience, presume the role of moral judge, conflicted between whether to believe his sense of remorse or forever condemn him for his actions. We follow Esad’s journey to overcome his guilt for a number of years. We meet his parents and his partner and are very much convinced that this is a man filled with regret for crimes committed at an arguably vulnerable age in a context of encouraged violence. The director explains that Esad “came out of prison after serving his sentence, but eventually I had the feeling it was not enough for him, he still felt guilt.”

Juxtaposing his remorse, the film confronts us with the testimonies of pain from his victims and their families. Tears fill the screen. Instantly, their fear, anger and pain crush Esad’s sense of regret. We are left questioning if he deserves the right to a normal life. Can ten years’ imprisonment account for his conviction of murder and torture? Should Esad have the right to close the chapter of Celebici prison whilst it lives on in the minds of those who were tortured?

We leave the cinema with a heavy weight on our shoulders, questioning the value of an apology and what constitutes forgiveness. If we forgive, does this mean we are obliged to forget? For the victims of Celebici prison their harrowing experience may never be forgotten. On the other hand, forgiveness may also lead to closure, not only for the perpetrator but equally the victim. As horrific as his crimes are, Esad leaves us with the strong message: “I hope that people will be able to see there is nothing wrong or bad in extending a hand to each other and saying sorry for the things we did…one can apologise without expecting anything in return”

This article was written by Lily Pryer, the Communications Coordinator at STAND France. Lily is a History and French student at the University of York and is currently following a year abroad programme at the Sorbonne, Paris IV.


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