Train Driver's Diary: Kind spirit and black humour combine for maximum effect
by Vladan Petkovic
- Director Miloš Radović scores big with his third film, with crucial input from actor-producer Lazar Ristovski
After world-premiering at the Moscow International Film Festival and winning its audience award, the Serbian Oscar submission, Train Driver's Diary [+see also:
interview: Milos Radović
film profile], by writer-director Miloš Radović has just screened in the Free Spirit Competition of the Warsaw Film Festival. This audience-friendly drama-comedy with a delicious dose of black humour could play very well, not only on the arthouse circuit, but, with the right promotion, could even make multiplex crowds happy, especially in Eastern Europe.
The film starts with protagonist Ilija (actor and producer Lazar Ristovski) telling us in voice-over how many people he has inadvertently killed during his career as a train driver. We then see him crashing into a van containing a six-part Gypsy brass band. His subsequent visit to a psychologist is one of the film’s more hilarious moments.
Meanwhile, a ten-year-old boy, Sima, is disappointed when he finds out his real parents are dead and runs away from his orphanage, intending to commit suicide. Of course, he decides to do so by throwing himself in front of a train. This time, Ilija manages to brake at the last moment, and takes the boy under his wing.
Eight years later, Sima (non-professional actor Petar Korać) has graduated and wants to become a train driver. Of course, Ilija won't let him, although their neighbours, Sida (Jasna Djuričić, from Barbarians [+see also:
interview: Ivan Ikic
film profile]) and her husband, another train driver, Dragan "Diesel" (Mladen Nelević, from The Parade [+see also:
film profile]) are trying to convince him otherwise. They all live in a railway depot, with Ilija owning a large room where he grows flowers, and the couple in a beautifully arranged train car. There is also Ilija's lady-friend Jagoda (Mirjana Karanović), and the two often spend intimate, but platonic, evenings together.
It is a beautiful film in the most literal sense. Its spirit of kindness is excellently intercut with bouts of black humour, and the cast was clearly inspired, resulting in engaging characters and intriguing interplay between them. The role of the good-hearted grump is right up Ristovski's alley, while Djuričić and Karanović wonderfully play against type. In this role, Korać shows the potential to grow into a fine actor, if given the right parts and the chance to hone his skills.
Writer-director Radović started with a bang, winning a Jury Prize at Cannes for his short The Sudden and Premature Death of Colonel KK in 1987, but his feature films Small World (2003) and Falling into Paradise [+see also:
film profile] (2004), although certainly not without their qualities, didn't gain much exposure. However, with this film, his cooperation with cinematographer Dušan Joksimović (The Parade), who paints the film in warm, autumnal colours, editor Djordje Marković (Tears for Sale), who cuts in exactly the right rhythm, and expressive and playful, but never over-the-top, music by Croatia's Mate Matišić, the director has made a film that definitely deserves much more than intermittent festival exposure.
Train Driver's Diary is a second win this year for co-producing partners Zillion Film from Serbia and Interfilm from Croatia, the first of which was Zrinko Ogresta's Berlinale title, On the Other Side [+see also:
interview: Tihana Lazovic
interview: Zrinko Ogresta
film profile], (co-penned and scored by Matišić) – both films are their respective countries' Oscar submissions. International rights for Train Driver's Diary are available, and could pay off to a sales agent and respective distributor with some guts and creative spirit.