The Load

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Load
"Glavonic, who has a background in documentary, has crafted a moody and broody piece, built less on onscreen incident than the oppressive atmosphere and offscreen imaginings." | Photo: Tatjana Krstevski/Non-Aligned Films

A literal and figurative fog of war hangs over Ognjen Glavonic's debut fiction feature, a melancholic character study set against the 1999 Balkans conflict, though it is only ever glimpsed in echoes. Vlada (Leon Lucev) could almost have been cut out of an Andrei Tarkovsky dystopia such is the blasted barrenness of the film's opening sequence, which sees him take on his latest truck delivery mission from Kosovo to Belgrade.

"Once you start driving, there's no stopping," he's told. As for the cargo, that remains a mystery under lock and key save for the occasional clank from the container behind him. A chance encounter with young and imperturbable hitchhiker Paja (Pavle Cemerikic) offers some company but this is essentially one man's odyssey - and one that takes place as much in the mind of the protagonist as it does on the road. The war seems paradoxically distant and ever present - from night-time air defences that flash across the sky like fireworks, to the jet engines Paja and Vlada hear overhead, shrouded from view by thick, grey cloud.

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While episodic encounters at a wedding or in a bar punctuate the journey, there's a sense of everything being tainted - "Take me away from here," the wedding singer croons. Odd details also add to the mood, as kids mucking about with a lighter and a can of aerosol takes on a dark destructiveness, while a half-chewed lollipop stuck to the coat of a dog foreshadows horrors to come.

Lucev - who turned in a similarly intense performance in Alen Drljevic's exploration of the impact of the Balkans conflict Men Don't Cry - conveys the ground-down stoicism of those caught up in conflict and somehow trying to make the best of it, even as his own conscience begins to prickle. The emphasis is on the past - whether it's a child's carving on a swing or a recollection of another moment of grim conflict - with the future at best uncertain.

Glavonic, who has a background in documentary, has crafted a moody and broody piece, built less on onscreen incident than the oppressive atmosphere and offscreen imaginings and, though requiring some patience in its early stages, gradually builds to powerful revelations that, as with everything in the film, is as much an internal realisation for Vlada as it is an external horror for us. Everything, no matter how much you might try to ignore it, is loaded.

Reviewed on: 28 Aug 2019
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A truck driver is tasked with transporting mysterious cargo across a scorched landscape from Kosovo to Belgrade during the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.

Director: Ognjen Glavonic

Writer: Ognjen Glavonic

Starring: Leon Lucev, Pavle Cemerikic, Tamara Krcunovic, Ivan Lucev, Igor Bencina, Kosta Bekric, Novak Bilbija, Tadija Calukovic, Branislav Ciric, Radoje Cupic, Mateja Dimitrijevic, Olga Dimitrijevic, Sara Dinic, Milos Gasevic, Marko Grba Singh

Year: 2018

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: Serbia, France, Croatia, Iran, Qatar


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If you like this, try:

Men Don't Cry