Treading heavily on universally recognizable material about an innocent man turned into a violent force by the dark-hearted people around him, "Wheels" (Tockovi) is a taut, blackly comic 1998 Yugoslav drama that rivals some of the best Tarantino-noir films of the decade. A natural for festivals and select-site engagements, it screened Saturday at the Freedom Film Festival in Santa Monica.
In his feature debut, Serbian screenwriter-director and former film critic Djordje Milosavljevic
seems at times more inspired by "Key Largo" than "Pulp Fiction", while the wicked plot is worthy of a Luis Bunuel opus. Set mostly in a roadside motel/diner dubbed Wheels, the movie opens with lead Nemanya (Dragan Micanovic
) driving in a soaking rain to his father's house. Out in the same part of the country, a serial killer is loose.
Nemanya has a flat tire, is briefly harassed by the cops and then gives a stranger a lift. When he gets to the motel, he's hungry and tired, but the reception he gets is gruff and unfriendly. With a gun mysteriously now in his possession, Nemanya is nonetheless caught with his defenses down by the motel owner and several male and female guests, who have decided that he is the serial killer.
"I am not a killer", he pleads -- but then weird things start to happen. The outcome of an instantaneous trial, with Nemanya tied up, does not go as planned. He gets free, but one person is accidentally killed in the process.
With the others acting unreasonable and hostile, he is backed into a corner. But he finds out soon enough that they are all shady characters with hidden agendas.
While some of the specific cultural aspects don't always translate well, such as one character's constant mispronouncing of common words, "Wheels" winds up to a explosive but not altogether downbeat climax. Not afraid of upping the body count and employing witty small talk about ancient epitaphs, Milosavljevic shows solid filmmaking skills, particularly working within the constraints of an obviously small budget.
In collaboration with
the Ministry of Culture of Serbia
and Bulgarian National Television
Director of photography:Dusan Ivanovic
Art director:Vladislav Lasic
Costume designer:Dejana Vucicevic
Cast: Dragan Micanovic
, Anica Dobra
, Nikola Kojo
, Ljubisa Samardzic
, Bogdan Diklic
Running time -- 90 minutes
No MPAA rating