Arts movie review

In Kiss the Future, we find a U2 that’s much less corporate and crusty than today’s

A new documentary tells the gripping story of the Bosnian War and Siege of Sarajevo through the eyes of a young American and an Irish rock band


Kiss the Future

Directed by Nenad Cicin-Sain

Screenplay by Nenad Cicin-Sain and Bill S. Carter

NR. In select theaters.

These days, U2 feels as corporate and crusty as bands come. This group was responsible for their album Songs of Innocence being annoyingly and automatically downloaded to everyone's iPod in 2014. It is now playing a highly lucrative residency at the new gloriously hyper-capitalist Vegas fixture, the Sphere. Its frontmen, Bono and the Edge, seem as silly and self-important as their one-word names. 

Thus, I arrived at the premiere of Kiss the Future with a substantial dose of skepticism. The new music documentary, from relatively unknown director Nenad Cicin-Sain, centers on the Bosnian War, international aid efforts, internal resistance, and the supposed role of U2's advocacy in bringing awareness to the conflict. 

I was pleasantly surprised by the reality of the film, which was mostly a thoughtful, serious piece of historical journalism on a largely forgotten war with an authentic narrative backbone upheld by a much more youthful, relatively revolutionary U2. 

The film hits the ground running with a crash course on the war, the 1,425-day siege of Sarajevo (the longest siege of any capital city in the modern era!), and the main figures, such as Slobodan Milošević, the Serbian president. Since the war took place before I was even born and hardly had any American involvement, it's a part of recent history I knew almost nothing about before arriving at the movie. My screening's audience, which consisted of many students, no doubt also benefited from the rundown of the central conflict. 

During the documentary's overview, we're introduced to our protagonist, Bill Carter (one of the movie’s writers, along with Cicin-Sain), a young, surfer-bro handsome American with long hair and rosy cheeks. He’s a member of The Serious Road Trip, an international aid organization that led risky, rogue operations delivering food and supplies into Sarajevo and other highly dangerous destinations where more traditional, risk-averse nonprofits wouldn't travel. Having joined the group to escape tragedy in his personal life back stateside — his girlfriend was killed in a car accident — Bill arrives in the war-torn city determined to spread joy and help others. 

Bill quickly realizes that between snipers lining every street and makeshift bunkers protecting civilians from constant violence, a small flame of joy that the city keeps lit is in the raging underground disco and punk-rock scene, where people escape to sing, drink, and headbang in low-ceiling basements. Inspired by the Bosnians' musical tastes and watching as U2 toured throughout Europe with their tongue-in-cheek ZooTV Tour, Bill has the spark of an idea: interviewing Bono and getting the band to Sarajevo. 

After a ramshackle scheme that involves complex radio communication and a faxing debacle, Bill manages to connect with U2's management, escape the city, and intercept the band in Ireland. There, he interviews Bono and introduces the idea of U2 using their enormous and global stage to highlight the under-covered plight of Sarajevo. Soon enough, Bill is an emotional centerpiece of the tour, connecting via a proto-video conference with inspirational messages, love notes to faraway romantic partners, and pleas for peace, all directly from trapped Sarajevo residents. And while the tour partnership doesn't last forever, U2's activism helps propel the news to a wider and younger audience and is reignited years later when they, in a beautiful and poetic moment of raw energy, become the first international band to play a concert in post-war Sarajevo. "Fuck the past, kiss the future!" yells Bono at the climactic show to erupting cheers.

Excellent characters and compelling footage make up for the relatively uninspired direction. Bill is so much fun, and, with the same rosy cheeks but a much shorter haircut, he spoke at the screening, answering Q&A in the same thoughtful, empathetic way he had conducted live interviews with Bosnians decades prior. Residents of the city all convey the challenges they faced and recount harrowing stories of friends and family dying, making the ultimate payoff of the U2 show all the richer. Even U2, now older and more self-important, gives solid interviews. One talking head jumpscare: Bill Clinton, who's in the movie despite his infamous inaction in the war until the Srebrenica massacre. Another interviewee, famous journalist Christine Amanpour, is shown in a flashback clip putting then-president Clinton on the hot seat. By the end of the movie, as the Sarajevo residents reacted to the climactic concert footage, a wider diversity of interviewees could have been helpful to represent a bigger array of perspectives. 

Regarding direction, several of Cicin-Sain's missteps hold the film back, including a ham-fisted finale tying the message back to modern-day conflicts (and, worst of all, the completely unrelated January 6th insurrection) and bunker-style interview backgrounds that were distractingly obvious Hollywood soundstages over-designed to look like wartime Eastern Europe.
It's hard being a celebrity; you get so politically compromised by fame and wealth that anything seems important. One can’t help but think about Taylor Swift's infamously milquetoast "political action" and champagne clinks in her documentary Miss Americana. Seeing the impact U2 made not only in bringing attention to the Bosnian War but in following through in one electric concert makes the movie worth a watch, particularly alongside its rundown of an oft-forgotten conflict.