A Croatian Movie Star is born
December 1997
Denver Rocky Mountain

Is America ready for a Croatian matinee idol?

We hailed foreigners Cary Grant, Charles Boyer and Marcello Mastroianni as our own - and by the reaction women had to Goran Visnjic at the Welcome to Sarajevo premiere last week, he may be next.

Gorgeous Visnjic plays the brooding Bosnian who helps Mike Nicholson get off his safe journalist's perch to save a little girl caught in the siege of Sarajevo. The tall, bedroom-eyed 25-year-old provided some romantic relief in a film so realistic that envoy Richard Holbrooke said before curtain, ``This is as good as a movie can get in making you actually be there.''

Gut-wrenching scenes of real war footage and performances by CNN-type Woody Harrelson, Emily Lloyd and 11-year-old Emira Nusevic tore up the audience like a land mine. Kirstie Alley, Rosie Perez, David Byrne, Debi Mazar and other moviegoers that night couldn't help but be moved by the girl's true story, by what the people of Sarajevo went through and by what the West didn't do.

A scene in which armed Serbs board a bus full of children and take a dozen of them off screaming actually happened before his eyes, Nicholson told us. Snipers picked off young mothers in the street. And throughout it all, the film shows, Sarajevans kept listening to their Rolling Stones albums and holding Miss Besieged Sarajevo contests. The film's two Sarajevan stars lived through the siege. Visnjic's friends were killed. Emira, the film's child star, climbed up and down 18 floors to look for bread, water and kindling.

But that's behind them now. Visnjic sounded like any American star when he complained about the Croatian paparazzi chasing after him. ``Why don't they focus on my acting?'' he said in a familiar wail. And after Emira showed up in New York in November in a thin dress and a windbreaker, prompting Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein to send her on a shopping spree, the child did what any American girl would: She cleaned out The Gap, Strawberry and Timberland, she told us. She also went to Disney World. ``We went on - how you call that up-and-down thing?'' Emira said. ``Never again!'' When a roller coaster is the scariest thing in a kid's world, life is as it should be.