The Trap

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Palm Springs International Film Festival

PALM SPRINGS -- "The Trap," Serbia's entry for the 2007 foreign-language film Oscar, was one of the best films screened at this year's Palm Springs International Film Festival.

The story bears some uncanny similarities to Woody Allen's new film, "Cassandra's Dream." In both movies, financially desperate men are lured into killing a total stranger. While Allen's movie has hot actors Ewan McGregor, Colin Farrell and Tom Wilkinson in the cast, it turns out to be a torpid and tedious affair. By contrast, "Trap" is a crackerjack thriller with tension that never abates.

One difference between the two movies is that Mladen (Nebojsa Glogovac), the tormented hero of "Trap," has a pressing reason to commit unspeakable acts, while the two brothers in "Dream" are merely hoping to fatten their bank accounts.

Mladen's life seems uneventful enough until he and his wife learn that their young son has a heart condition that will kill him unless he has an expensive operation that their insurance will not cover. Mladen's wife places an ad in the newspaper pleading for help, and a mysterious man answers and offers to pay for the operation if Mladen will assassinate a wealthy kingpin.

Initially revolted by the idea, Mladen begins to consider the option as his son's condition worsens. His benefactor assures him that the man to be murdered is a reprehensible character with many enemies, and Mladen accepts the rationale. But nothing is quite what it seems, and some neat surprise twists keep ratcheting up the suspense, as the film races toward a grim but apt conclusion.

This kind of story is not novel, and at moments the melodrama does get a bit overheated. But the picture is beautifully executed by director Srdjan Golubovic and a first-rate cast. Golubovic composes eloquent, subjective shots that encourage us to share the protagonist's mounting desperation. Similarly, the script and direction both contain many sharp touches. For example, during the scene where Mladen and his wife request a loan from a bank officer, the banker smilingly rejects their plea; when a furious Mladen asks why he is smiling, the loan officer tells him that his bosses require a smiling countenance in any interaction with customers.

The film's portrayal of contemporary Belgrade, a shimmering metropolis with a sense of danger lurking just beneath the surface, is acute. Glogovac conveys a palpable sense of anguish as the screws tighten around Mladen. As his wife, Natasa Ninkovic is deeply moving, and the engaging Marko Djurovic as their son helps to heighten the urgency of Mladen's dilemma.

Even at a time when foreign films face rough sledding in the U.S., this movie has enough suspense to guarantee rapt audiences. Mladen's moral disintegration makes for a thoroughly involving cinematic experience.

THE TRAP
Film House Bas Celik, Midiopolis Film GmbH, UJ Budapest Filmstudio
Credits:
Director: Srdjan Golubovic
Screenwriters: Srdan Koljevic, Melina Pota Koljevic
Based on the novel by: Nenad Teofilovic
Producers: Jelena Mitrovic, Natasa Ninkovic, Alexander Ris, Jorg Rothe, Laszlo Kantor
Executive producer: Igor Kecman
Director of photography: Aleksandar Ilic
Production designer: Goran Joksimovic
Music: Mario Schneider
Costume designer: Ljiljana Petrovic
Editors: Marko Glusac, Dejan Urosevic
Cast:
Mladen: Nebojsa Glogovac
Marija: Natasa Ninkovic
Jelena: Anica Dobra
Kosta Antic: Miki Manojlovic
Nemanja: Marko Djurovic
Running time -- 106 minutes
No MPAA rating

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