Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 20, 2019 11:55 am 
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A Serbian trucker's grim ride: a stoical look at an ambiguous journey

This atmospheric, wintry road movie by Ognjen Glavonić concentrates on a truck driver who must convey sensitive cargo along a treacherous path, from Kosovo to Belgrade during the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Reference to Henri-Georges Clouzot’s classic Wages of Fear of Friedkin’s remake Sorcerer is obvious but so is the difference: this driver has an unknown load, and papers permitting him to pass without opening it up to authorities. This is not a high tension journey with deliciously unbearable suspense, but rather one of slow, brooding, tedious nerve-wracking-ness and the growing sense that Vlada (Croatian actor Leon Lučev), the driver, has gotten involved in some unspecified but considerable evil. The oblique but insistent reference is to an atrocity, a late Kosovo war massacre, that Glavonić meticulously documented earlier in his 2016 non fiction film, Depth Two. Ognjen Glavonić is a person in intense pursuit of secrets his countrymen want to forget.The director has said "every country is built on crimes that they don’t want to talk about." The load: the very burden Vlado carries is weighted down with metaphorical conceit that, despite the minimalism of the style, feels lugubrious and heavy-handed.

On the journey not much happens but each small incident is magnified. Vlada picks up a young hitchhiker (Pavle Čemerikić) on his way to Munich. He stops to rest several times. He telephones to his wife, who's having hospital tests. He gets his cigarettes and what turns out to be a historic lighter stolen during a brief absence from the truck. The camera briefly leaves Vlada, following the hitchhiker to an abandoned playground where his name is painted (a goodbye to his youth, perhaps?) watched two young petty thieves examine the stolen lighter.

At the end of the film, Vlada meets with his son, Ivan, and tells him a wartime grandfather Leka cigarette lighter story that's less colorful, but may remind you of the gold watch story told by Captain Koons (Chris Walken) in Pulp Fiction. In a Film Comment interview with Eric Hynes, Glavonić says everything must lead up to the father's opening up to his son in this sequence. A nice touch, the walnut tree that grew out of the fallen Leka's pocket. There was actually a medal, a watch and a lighter awarded posthumously to Leka after WWII.

The ending is hopeful, with the teenage Ivan liking his dad's "friend's" band tape and sharing with his sister the thought that he needs to form a band of his own. But he won't escape the burden of these days he doesn't yet know about - not if Ognjen Glavonić has anything to say about it.

The Load/Teret 98 mins., debuted at Cannes in Directors Fortnight May 2018; over 1 5 other festivals including Toronto, Vancouver and Rotterdam. Reviewed at Cannes by Jessica Kiang for Variety (she calls this feature debut "harshly intelligent and uncompromisingly spare"), and by Stephen Dalton for Hollywood Reporter. Dalton comments pointedly that this film "should find a keen audience among the the misery-porn masochists who program and attend film festivals," but will be only "very niche commercial prospect, especially for non-Balkan viewers." A pessimistic view of a well-crafted film, in which, indeed not enough finally happens. Screened for this review as part of the 2019 MoMA-FSLC New Directors/New Films Series.

ND/NF ]Showtimes: April 3, 8:45 PM; April 4, 6:30 PM
U.S. Premiere · Q&As with Ognjen Glavonić on April 3 & 4


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