Writer: Ognjen Glavonic
Cast: Leon Lucev, Pavle Cemerikic
Cert: 15 (TBC)
Running time: 98mins
What’s the story: During the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia, a truck driver must transport mysterious cargo from Kosovo to Belgrade.
What’s the verdict: Ognjen Glavonic’s feature debut is a pared back, near anti-thriller set against NATO’s bombing of Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbian regime in 1999.
Leon Lucev is Vlada, a truck driver transporting secret cargo for the military from Kosovo to Belgrade. The rules are he is not permitted to stop, and must not try to discover what is in the back of his padlocked lorry.
Forced to take an alternate route following a vicious looking car accident on a key bridge, Vlada breaks protocol by picking up young hitchhiker Paja (Cemerikic). As they journey to the capital, the film takes detours into brief vignettes exploring other characters. Young thieves seeking shelter in a vast WW2 memorial they know little about. A desperate looking wedding. A couple clearly facing a recent terrible event.
The basic plot echoes The Wages of Fear or Sorcerer, but suspense sequences are not Glavonic’s priority. His 2016 documentary Depth Two was a meditative investigation into Serbian war crimes, and The Load is similarly approached.
Vlada’s load also bears a psychic weight on him, particularly when its nature is strongly suggested in the third act. But, the weight of life under NATO bombs, frequently seen in the distance as constellations in the sky, and Milosevic’s regime bear down upon all characters.
Smiles are rare. When they do arrive, such as when Vlada hears encouraging news from his sick wife, they are heartbreaking.
Minimalist in motivation and character psychology, the audience is left to fill in many blanks. And, with the 1999 Yugoslavian conflict now a distant memory for the West, some audiences may find entry points difficult to locate.
Glavonic’s almost exclusively grey-infused visual style is understandable, but similarly oppressive. Only natural sound is permitted, and long stretches play out with little dialogue.
Yet, in the final act there are glimmers of hope. Alongside a powerful monologue about Vlada’s father and uncle, the glory of a long-gone battle against invading Nazis and how time, eventually, will reveal all.
Difficult, but rewarding.
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