1. The Load (Ognjen Glavonic) + Queen of Hearts (May el-Toukhy)
And so at the top of my list we have a double bill. A shared spot for two very different, but in my opinion equally strong films, that have one big thing in common: bravery. As it happens, I saw both movies on the same day. My morning started with the last festival screening of The Load, after which I went off to work, and later that evening I closed the day off with the Rotterdam premiere of Queen of Hearts.
The Load was one of the first titels announced for IFFR 2019. As the film already had a succesfull festival year, premiering in Cannes last year and winning prizes at a.o. Sarajevo Film Festival, I was quite familiar with the story and the history of its production process. But I had not seen it yet, so I was glad it would be showing at IFFR.
The action takes place during the NATO airstrike of Serbia in 1999, during the Kosovo war. The story is based on true facts. We follow the middle aged Vlada, a Serbian truck driver who is transporting a top-secret cargo from Kosovo to Belgrade. Not even he nows what’s in the back of his truck, nor is he allowed to ask. The suspicion of something horrible is present in the atmosphere and imagery. The bleak colour palette, sounds of bombs heard but never seen. The landscape, the people, their worn out clothes, everything breaths despair and sadness. As wars always do.
As the mystery of the cargo slowly unravels, the layered meaning of the films title becomes clear. Its literal and methaphorical sense intertwine as Vlada is left with a moral burden and a big decision to make. Will he stay a knowing participant to a war crime? More importantly, will he carry this burden, this guilt over to his own son? The thematic of The Load is actually much broader than the specific story told, as the question of war-related heritage one generation leaves to another is a very actual one in the post-war ex-Yugoslav region.
The minimalistic approach and the amount of integrity handling such a sensitive subject are some of the things I appreceated about The Load. I also very much love the way this film was shot, with lots of flowy camera movement and smart use of landscape, landmarks and symbolism. Though this last aspect is a potentional point of misunderstanding for viewers who are not so familiar with the ex-Yugoslav history. Symbolism from the WO II era playes a significant part in the story, but is not verbally explained. To un unknowing viewer it might be a confusing or missed layer. But despite this, the central story should resonate to all.
The Load on IFFR