The first two minutes of The Trap (aka Klopka) exhibit a marvel of expressive cinematography and forecast the strength of the film as it unwinds over the remaining 104 minutes. Srdan Golubovic’s direction and editing are acute and masterful: an array of editing moves—flash-forward and flashback shots used within seconds of each other, for example—are intercut into a seamless and flowing montage that introduces the complexity of the film’s subject without confusing it. And though the film moves away from this bravura opening into a more settled, realist style, the same expert editing and camera work occasionally punctuate it when the narrative requires it.
On grounds of technique alone, Serbia’s 2008 nomination for a “Best Foreign Film” Oscar is well worth seeing. And the movie offers more than expert and engaging cinematography. Awkwardly marketed as a “thriller,” its plotline is equally compelling and induces reflection after the credits roll.
The film’s protagonist, Mladen Pavlovic (Neboja Glogovac), articulates the thematic heart of the film’s drama in those first few minutes: “Everything is a mess” in post-Miloevic Serbia. Ethics and the value of human life have all but evaporated in a country where “gangster capitalism” has replaced the old state-sponsored economic and social order. Marked as one of the few good men left in a state where corruption and crime are the necessary complements to participation in the global “free market,” Mladen and his wife Marija (Natasa Ninkovic) cannot afford the 26,000 euros necessary for a life-saving heart operation for their son. They are forced to advertise for charity while other members of their community spend enormous sums on frames for paintings they have yet to buy.
The city of Belgrade is overflowing with gangs of Roma children who make their living washing car windshields, and just as full of SUVs, cell phones and the garish mansions of new money. Mladen’s struggle to raise the necessary money draws him right into the twisted heart of this new social order where “not every human life has the same value.” That American audiences will be interested in the same quandaries that hound the film’s protagonist is signaled by a reference The Trap makes to the financial calculus used by the U.S. government to “compensate” the victims of 9/11. Only the “earning power” of the dead was used to determine what their survivors were awarded in dollars. The Trap explores a similar ethical territory where money and human life are balanced on a single scale.
The Trap screens at the Missoula Public Library as part of the World Wide Cinema series Friday, Dec. 12, at 7 PM. Free.
New on DVD: Transsiberian
Directed by Brad Anderson
Starring Woody Harrelson, Ben Kingsley and Emily Mortimer
Speaking of Eastern European thrillers (see The Trap, left), this taut and methodical Hitchcockian film moves even farther east, following a lily-white, church-going couple as they embark on a leisurely train ride from Beijing to Moscow. One problem: Nothing seems fine, ever. From the opening scene, director Brad Anderson (Next Stop Wonderland, as well as a contributor to “The Wire”) sets an ominous tone against the vast emptiness of Siberia. He ratchets up the common fears of any naïve traveler in a far-off land. He plays to the rampant crime and corruption in modern day Russia, especially the brutal intimidation of the authorities. He especially revels in seeing how the temptation of everyday sin mixes with an already charged environment.
Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer find themselves stuck in the middle of it all. Having just completed a mission with their church helping children in China, they’ve decided to take six days to, basically, meet the creepy locals, see a ton of snow, drink vodka and smoke cigs. And, along the way, save their ungodly boring marriage. The couple appears amused but overwhelmed—Harrelson’s character is a train geek; Mortimer’s an amateur photographer—until they run into a set of young wanderlusting lovers, one of whom is Kate Mara wearing more black eyeliner than an entire ’80s hair band. Eventually Ben Kingsley, a stoic detective cut in classic Kingsley form, crosses their path and attempts to make sense of the nefarious relationships forming along the ride.
Almost every scene takes place in the cramped confines of an aged train. Clogged toilets, stained teeth and body odor ooze from the screen. Yet Anderson frequently pulls back to aerial shots that show nothing—stark white nothing—surrounding the churning train. That engrossing scenery speaks to Transsiberian’s ability to cause the audience intense unease without every wanting to look away. —Skylar Browning