Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 27, 2019

The Load

Filed under: Film,Yugoslavia — louisproyect @ 7:16 pm

No other European nationality has been demonized more in the recent past than the Serbs. Starting with the war in Bosnia in 1992 and continuing through the war in Kosovo that lasted until 1999, they have been depicted as fascist monsters. The demonization finally relented when President Milosevic was ousted in a coup in 2000. And nowhere is the demonization more pronounced than in cinema where Serbs have been given more or less the same status as Arab terrorists. The most extreme of these films was “Welcome to Sarajevo” that I reviewed in 1997:

To prove how inhuman the Serbs are, the film includes a horrifying scene. A bus carrying the orphaned children out of Sarajevo into the safety of Italy is stopped at gun-point by ranting Serb soldiers. They board the bus and take Muslim babies with them, presumably to be barbecued and eaten later. It is astonishing that “Welcome to Sarajevo” puts forward the notion that the Serb army would exterminate innocent children in this manner. The real crime of “ethnic cleansing” was beastly enough, but it was designed to carve out pieces of Bosnian territory in order to exclude one ethnic group or another, not exterminate them. While the Serbs were certainly more aggressive than the Muslims, both sides took part in the blood-letting.

Even the Nazis got a better treatment than this in “Das Boot”, the 1982 film about a German submarine crew. After more than a dozen films that portrayed Serbs as mustache-twirling villains out of central casting, there is a new film that opens Friday at Lincoln Center, which departs from the official version. Directed by a 34-year old Serb named Ognjen Glavonić, “The Load” tells the story of Vlada (Leon Lucev), a 40-something man paid to transport a truckload of goods across the border from Kosovo into Belgrade during wartime. The publicity likens the film to Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “The Wages of Fear” but it is not at all like this. Although you are reminded of the war continuously through burning wreckage both on the road and near it, it much more about the quiet acceptance of a man forced to take risks to put food on his table. Back in Belgrade, he has a wife and son who await his return. The road to Belgrade is fraught with danger but Glavonić has not made an action film. Instead, he has created an existential tale set against the backdrop of war but it is the man’s soul that concerns him, not his heroism.

Even though we have no idea what “the load” in the back of the truck consists of, we do know that is connected to the war since armed detachments of Serb fighters meet him at either end. Most of the film consists of Vlada and a 19-year old hitchhiker named Paja (Pavle Čemerikić) exchanging small talk as they wend their way northward. Tired of the war and an uncertain future, Paja is on his way to Munich. Vlada is both happy to have some company on the trip but occasionally irritated with the youth who probably had no business being in the truck. Probably the most telling scene that distinguishes this film from run-of-the-mill action movies takes place when Vlada is standing near his truck on the side of the road when a police car pulls up with the lights flashing. If this was a conventional film, he would have overpowered the cop and shot him with his own gun. As it happens, the cops were fellow Serbs who waved him along after he shows them a written order from the men who hired him. We can assume that they were Serbian military brass.

Cinematically, “The Load” is as bold as its subject matter. Using a palette of olive drab and gray, the film assumes a melancholy tone in keeping with the narrative. There is no film score, only the continuous sound of the truck’s engine that creates a mood more effective than any music.

It is only in the final 15 minutes of the film that the Serb identity begins to be foregrounded. Vlada discusses the family’s situation with his wife and his son Ivan (Ivan Lučev) who have grown weary of NATO bombing. He urges them to find a place to stay in the country that is less of a target. He will rejoin them after one last trip from Kosovo to Belgrade. A conventional film might have Vlada killed off just like Yves Montand in “The Wages of Fear” but director Ognjen Glavonić has something else in mind as the press note’s interview would indicate:

I didn’t want to make an action movie. I didn’t want to have hundreds of different shots and camera angles, as it was more important to spend that time with him and the sound of the truck, to see what he sees and to feel what he feels. This film is defined by two words: isolation and occupation. When he steps out of the truck cabin, he steps into a territory that’s occupied by war: the bombs, gunshots, noise, but also the fear and paranoia, which has already awakened in people. Which is why Vlada always goes back to that truck.

Resolutely determined to avoid action film conventions as well as pat political commentary, Glavonić does come up with a rather poignant depiction of Serb resistance to NATO bombing. It is not a spoiler alert to state that it is a virtual “fuck you” to the bombers rather than a missile taking down a plane.

1 Comment »

  1. Thank you. I look forward to seeing this film in due course.

    Comment by Mark Brady — August 29, 2019 @ 8:29 pm

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