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Review: Loan Shark


- Serbian director Nemanja Ćeranić's debut is a straightforward crime-thriller that can capitalise on the audience’s appetite for fare about tough guys with a code of honour

Review: Loan Shark
Dušan Petković in Loan Shark

Serbian audiences have developed a taste for gritty crime stories thanks to several high-budget TV series that have been occupying their screens in the last few years. This is why they might be interested in a new, smaller-scale, independent production, Loan Shark [+see also:
interview: Nemanja Ćeranić
film profile
, by first-timer Nemanja Ćeranić, which has just premiered at Belgrade International Film Festival FEST and is starting its theatrical distribution through Art Vista on 20 May.

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The film takes place in Indjija, a town in the northern province of Vojvodina. Our hero, Mundir (Dušan Petković), is a middle-aged former boxer whose career as a loan shark is coming to an end. He has diabetes and a nice, upper-middle-class kind of home with a wife and two kids, and wants to retire and open a gym. He drives around town collecting the remaining debts so that he can make good on his own loan, from drug dealer Blečić (Bosnian actor Zlatan Vidović, not quite as menacing as he should be). Blečić has an offer for Mundir, but he flatly refuses.

Things seem to be going smoothly for our hero, but his illness, a couple of junkies on the prowl for money for their next fix, and a stroke of bad luck conspire to seriously complicate his plans. Will his sidekick and close friend Ramljan (Strahinja Blažić, a standout among the cast) and police chief Kantar (Jovo Maksić, convincing with his wheeling-and-dealing, small-town sheriff attitude) be able and willing to help?

Almost all Serbian crime fare is set in gritty Belgrade, and the audience associates the genre with the gangs that ruled the city in the 1990s. Loan Shark combines this awareness with a fresh setting: Indjija is a pretty place, not ruined and run-down like depressing towns in the south of the country. Mundir is old-school: he probably started his career in the 1990s, and as he drives around in his silver Mercedes-Benz (an older model, just like him), he listens to local radio that airs agriculture news and obituaries with “Love Theme” from Flashdance as the background music – an instant nostalgia trigger.

None of the actors in the film is exactly a household name in Serbia (Blažić may be the most recognisable thanks to his TV roles), which contributes to the film's authenticity, and Dušan Grubin's cinematography is clean and sure-handed, making good use of the town's often surprisingly attractive locations. Similarly, Strahinja Madžarević's screenplay is simple and straightforward, with just a couple of twists near the end. Dalibor Vrzić's score follows genre conventions with heavy metal and instrumental hip-hop themes, and a couple of terrible diegetic pop-folk songs that accompany scenes at a local bar and with the two junkies.

Petković, a non-professional actor in his first role, although not without a certain rough, subdued charisma, plays Mundir a bit flatly, but one can argue this is very much in accord with the character's nature: he has one goal, and not even an anaphylactic shock will stop him as he stoically goes about completing it. A few very economical scenes establish his love for and dedication to his family.

Filmed in only two weeks during the first wave of the pandemic last year, and without any funding from the national film body, instead relying on financial and logistical support from the town of Indjija, Loan Shark is a more than serviceable genre film that has the potential to do well in cinemas, not only in Serbia, but in the wider region as well. It was produced by Tracktor Film.

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