9:06 -- Film Review

A cerebral mystery that plays with questions of identity while plumbing the depths of obsession and despair.

PALM SPRINGS -- The procedures are highly irregular in this police procedural, more cool psychological puzzle than hot-on-the-case whodunit.

Told with elegant, elliptical precision, Slovenia's entry in the foreign-language Oscar race is a study in the unraveling of a cop's personality and his growing identification with a dead man. The handsomely shot and exceptionally well-written feature, which screened recently at the Palm Springs festival, is challenging art-house fare that will click with audiences willing to fit together the pieces.

Opening with two juxtaposed scenes whose meaning can be grasped -- partly, at least -- only after the film has ended, the story revolves around chief inspector Dusan (a terrifically self-contained Igor Samobor), who's investigating an apparent suicide. The victim, a man named Marjan Ozim, was found drowned in the water below a highway bridge that attracts the despondent; awoman who lives nearby has become an expert in the behavior of people contemplating that leap.

Director Igor Sterk and his co-writer, Sinisa Dragin, comment on Slovenia's suicide rate, one of the highest in the world, in ways that are organic to the drama. Their screenplay is a marvel of economy -- its dialogue spare, each gesture potent with meaning.

Dusan's despondency is apparent in his every glance, whether he's socializing with colleagues (Pavle Ravnohrib and Gregor Bakovic), having sex with the young blonde (Jana Zupancic) he keeps at emotional arm's length or navigating the recrimination and clutter in the home of his ex-wife (an excellent Silva Cusin). Trapped in the misery of a devastating loss, she's a woman of unfathomable bitterness. In a typically eloquent scene, Dusan's discord with her is signaled in the way he undoes the hairdo she's inflicted on their young daughter (Iva Markovic).

Given the drab and painful realities of the detective's life, it's no wonder that he's fascinated by the refined, serene interiors of musician/writer Ozim's apartment, which he quickly makes his own, insinuating himself into the mysterious man's life in increasingly shocking ways.

The film's title refers to the time on the dead man's stopped watch, a number that turns up elsewhere in the investigation but also has a purely symbolic value: a symmetrical image of mirroring and reversal, a visual shorthand for the film's themes.

It also echoes the curving elevated road at the center of the story, captured in cinematographer Simon Tansek's striking aerial compositions. Like everything in this finely wrought work, the judiciously used, minimalist score, augmented by Beethoven piano concertos, contains a world of feeling without telling the viewer how to feel.

Venue: Palm Springs International Film Festival
A Gustav Film/A.A.C. Prods./Mogador Film production in association with Slovenian Film Fund, ZDF/Arte and TV Slovenija
Cast: Igor Samobor, Silva Cusin, Labina Mitevska, Pavle Ravnohrib, Gregor Bakovic, Jana Zupancic, Iva Markovic
Director: Igor Sterk
Screenwriters: Igor Sterk, Sinisa Dragin
Producers: Igor Sterk, Frenk Celarc, Christoph Thoke
Director of photography: Simon Tansek
Production designer: Natasa Rogelj
Music: Jure Ferina, Pavao Miholjevic
Costume designer: Katja Rosa
Editor: Petar Markovic
No MPAA rating, 74 minutes


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