(director: Srdan Golubovic; screenwriters: Melina Pota Koljevic/Srdjan Koljevic/based on a play by Nenad Teofilovic; cinematographer: Aleksandar Ilic; editors, Marko Glusac/Dejan Urosevic; music, Mario Schneider; cast: Nebojsa Glogovac (Mladen), Natasa Ninkovic (Marija), Miki Manojlovic (Kosta Antic, the stranger), Anica Dobra (Jelena), Marko Durovic (Nemanja), Dejan Cukic (Petar Ivkovic), Vuk Kostic (Isadora, brat), Bogdan Diklic (Doktor Lukic), Vojin Cetkovic (Vlada), Mladen Nelevic (Marko), Boris Isakovic (Moma), Milorad Mandic (Stariji inspektor); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Jelena Mitrovic/Natasa Ninkovic/Alexander Ris/Jorg Rothe/Laszlo Kantor; Film Movement; 2007/-Serbia/Germany/Hungary-in Serbo-Croatian with English subtitles)

“The haunting and desperately premised film is technically efficient but with a plot lacking in warmth, with too many implausible events and a story line that’s too slick to find credible.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Serbian filmmaker Srdan Golubovic (“Absolute Hundred”) sets his moralistic thriller in the suburbs of contemporary Belgrade, the former capital of Yugoslavia. It’s mislabeled as a film noir because it visually tries to follow in the lines of a post-modern American film noir, when it’s instead more like a bleak and cynical urban psychological existential drama that reflects on the corruption of a country and its people that have lost their ethical values for runaway materialism in the post-Milosevic economically depressed period. It was hard to clearly see the protoganist as a noir character, when he acts more like a misled dad from a turgid mainstream TV sitcom melodrama. Writers Melina Pota Koljevic and Srdjan Koljevic base it on a play by Nenad Teofilovic.

The ordinary ‘everyman’ Mladen (Nebojsa Glogovac) is the amiable low salaried field boss civil engineer of a state-owned company that is about to go under unless a Belgian concern buys it. His always pouting wife Marija (Natasa Ninkovic) looks at him with misgiving for being such a poor provider, and they have a vociferous ten-year-old son named Nemanja (Marko Durovic), who wants a cellphone to text his elementary school peers. Their son is diagnosed with a life-threatening heart condition that can be performed in Berlin and not at home, and is a procedure not covered by his insurance. Since they don’t have the money, they follow their doctor’s suggestion and place an ad in the newspaper for donors. One day a sinister stranger (Miki Manojlovic) calls and offers the money to cover the operation if the gentle Mladen would kill a business rival. Though the proposal sickens Mladen, he finally agrees after his son’s condition worsens and he receives a small down payment. We are left with the question ‘What would you do to save your child’s life?’ It turns out the man he kills, Petar Ivkovic (Dejan Cukic), is the husband of Jelena (Anica Dobra), a neighbor who just moved in, and their bratty daughter Isadora (Vuk Kostic) is someone who plays in the wintry playground with Nemanja. It also turns out that the stranger disappears without paying the bulk of the money owed for the contract killing, leaving the anguished killer holding the bag and feeling like a used dolt.

Hardly a Faustian tale of losing one’s soul to the Devil, but more like a hamstrung contemporary dumbed down Balkan version of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment whereby the punishment comes from within. The haunting and desperately premised film is technically efficient but with a plot lacking in warmth, with too many implausible events and a story line that’s too slick to find credible. After the cold-blooded criminal act, it left it hard to feel pity for the lonely twisted hurt man who lost his soul and then almost his mind as he foolishly expected honor among thieves. It registers as a downbeat tale that lays the blame for doing wrong almost entirely on a corrupt society and not on one’s wrong-headed approach, until it’s too late to count as much of a confession. My problem was I got turned off by the self-absorbed Mladen, even if his sole aim was to be a good father, as the film lost me both as a probing moral dilemma decision film and as a suspense thriller since I stopped caring about the hard-pressed protagonist after he takes the bait to be a killer and found little interest in his later fight for redemption (symbolic of his country’s struggle) when the trapped man with no clean way out of his dilemma clears his troubled conscience and unexpectedly (and unbelievably, I might add) finds someone to help his son get an operation.

REVIEWED ON 11/18/2008 GRADE: C+