TIR: Rome Review

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This truck-driver portrait drives for miles without really getting anywhere.

Alberto Fasulo's documentary-fiction hybrid, starring "No Man's Land" actor Branko Zavrsan, won the top prize at the Rome Film Festival.

A Bosnian teacher who works for an Italian company as a truck driver jaunts up and down the continent in TIR, the low-key fiction feature debut of Italian documentary director Alberto Fasulo (Rumore bianco).  

Though scripted, the film feels extremely documentary-like, with main actor Branko Zavrsan (from the Oscar-winning film No Man’s Land) actually driving a huge truck for more than 18,000 miles during the film’s shoot and interacting with real truck drivers and clients who have no idea he’s an actor. The result is certainly lifelike but also dramatically undernourished, as during its 86-minute running time, TIR manages to gives a good idea of how monotonous and boring this on-the-road job can be but little else, with too little done in the characterization department for audiences to really care about the protagonist or his problems.

Oddly enough, the film recently was awarded the top prize by a jury chaired by James Gray at the  Rome Film Festival, thus becoming the second local, road-themed, documentary-like and acronym-including title to win the main award at an Italian festival this year after Venice’s Golden Lion for Gianfranco Rosi’s Sacro GRA. However, theatrical action will be limited even on home turf.

Branko (Slovenian actor Zavrsan, extremely dedicated to his craft) is an educator who took a job as a truck driver for an Italian firm because the pay is three times what he’d earn as a teacher (about $600 a month versus $1,800). This type of biographical information is gleaned from phone conversations with Branko’s wife, for which there is more than enough time on the endless-seeming road.

Indeed, Fasulo tries to convey something of the “paradox” (his word, in the press kit) of being a breadwinner away from home, doing everything for one’s family short of actually ever being there. A scene in which he complains that he’s thousands of kilometers away but tries to be a good father to his son, via some quick decision-making on the phone involving a lot of money, gets a cold “try to be a husband, too” as a reply from his wife, who has remained behind and is also a teacher.

But the home-front drama remains mostly off-screen and is never developed into something more sustained or insightful, and for most of the film, Branko is seen simply doing his daily chores as a driver: drive, unload, wash up on the road, cook for himself next to one of the rear tires and shoot the shit with his colleague, Maki (Marijan Sestak). This helps give an idea of what the lonely life of a truck driver is like but does very little to mold Branko into an interesting figure that audiences will want to root for.

Cinematography by the director himself thankfully refrains from being too edgy and arty, with Fasulo instead opting for calm and composed camerawork that won’t make the viewers seasick or claustrophobic (much of the film was shot inside the truck’s cabin). Sound work is solid and the lack of music reinforces the documentary feel.

TIR actually refers to the convention for International Road Transports (TIR is its French acronym) but is used in many European languages, including Italian, as a nickname for large trucks, since they often carry a TIR plate as well as a license plate.

Production: Nefertiti Film, Tucker Film, Focus Media, Rai Cinema
Cast: Branko Zavrsan, Lucka Pockaj, Marijan Sestak
Director: Alberto Fasulo
Screenwriters: Alberto Fasulo, Carlo Arciero, Enrico Vecchi, Branko Zavrsan
Producers: Nadia Trevisan, Alberto Fasulo

Director of photography: Alberto Fasulo
Editor: Johannes, Hiroshi Nakajima
Sales: Fandango
No rating, 86 minutes.