"How far are you willing to go to save your only child?"
Srdan Golubovic's "Klopka" (2007), on the surface, deals with a familiar premise explored in several films and stories in the past and its thematic crux asks the above age old question. But the Serbian filmmaker, despite some cliché-ridden situations, manages to make "Klopka", based on a novel by Nenad Teofilovic, a good cut above the rest.
A middle class man Mladen (Nebojsa Glogovac) and his wife Maridja (Natasa Ninkovic) are leading a decent life with their only son Nemanja (Marko Djurovic). They aren't extravagant but they are content. Nemanja does crib about not having a cell phone like his classmates do, but Mladen promises him that he will get him one; only he doesn't know when and how. Fate strikes its first blow and Nemanja is diagnosed with a terminal heart illness that could cause fatal seizures. Unless he undergoes a critical surgery in Berlin (that would cost the family a bomb, about 26,000 euros, not surprisingly), Nemanja could succumb to any next seizure that comes by!
In a desperate bid to gather funds, Maridja places an ad in the newspaper to seek help for little Nemanja. Little do they know that the ad would invite people from various circles trying to take advantage of their situation!
In one such test of vulnerability, after careful deliberation, Mladen accepts a job of murdering a rich business executive. The mysterious stranger who approaches him to do the job guarantees he would provide the entire surgery expense as well as travel ticket charges! A tempted Mladen sets out to do the task. But do things go as they planned? Can Mladen save Nemanja?
Plot synopses on various pages describe "Klopka" as a psychological thriller or a noir film. Frankly, although plot wise the film may seem to be such, it is actually a film that beneath its familiar, thriller exterior is a remarkably accurate depiction of life in the post-Milošević Serbian society. This was the transition phase when the middle class struggled to survive in their meagre paying State jobs, while some others moved on and got involved in shady practises, thus making a meteoric rise to a wealthy existence. What resulted was a wide gap between the rich and the poor. The cost for Nemanja's surgery was an impossible to achieve amount for some, and for others it was just peanuts, even as insignificant as to spend on useless decoration items! This is highlighted in a shattering moment when Maridja, a school teacher takes up a job as a private tutor in a rich girl's house while the rich girl shows off a frame hanging on her plush mansion's wall which costs a little more than the amount quoted by the doctor for Nemanja's surgery!
Also highlighted in some key scenes, are other traits of the period, including shielding nefarious activities with claims of acts of patriotism. And in what is perhaps the only comical moment in the film, a clerk at a foreign owned bank, along with his other co-workers is seen putting on a fake smile, even when acknowledging the loan applicants' predicament, for fear of being taken to task if they don't smile when doing their financial dealings! It goes to show how these employees were at the mercy of their foreign based employers who made their way into a society that needed revival.
These themes and a backdrop against which the story is set make "Klopka" stand out to a large extent. Despite treading familiar areas in the first forty minutes into the film, before the viewer could write off the story as being done to death, "Klopka" manages not to sink into predictable territory by introducing a good amount of surprising twists, some of them quite ironic and tragic. There are moments when the narrative does brink on the edge of contrivance, but there's nothing too extremely far-fetched or difficult to digest so as to take away from the film. It is near impossible not to feel a slight jab when Mladen, who strikes a pleasant acquaintance with Jelena (Anica Dobra), who comes to the same park with her child where Mladen takes Nemanja, has to face her in one of the most difficult and awkward moments in their lives that threatens to make one of them lose face and change things forever.
Golubovic gives his film a rather gritty, realistic feel by capturing a grim, scarcely populated suburban neighbourhood using minimal filming techniques like handheld camera, a slightly grainy texture and a bluish tinge to the picture. The sound is mostly ambient and diegetic and the music is sparse except for a melancholic score that plays during important moments in the film.
In spite of a rather sensitive theme at its centre, "Klopka" refrains from going into the melodramatic territory. It is the performances of Natasa Ninkovic and Nebojsa Glogovac that go a long way in holding the film together. The latter, in fact, delivers an understated, complex performance as a vulnerable husband torn between morals and duty to his family. It is a commendable display of a moral dilemma and it is very convincingly done. Mladen who appears retrained and composed for the most part exhibits fleeting instances of volatile emotion. It is only towards the end that he breaks down, exposing his weak, helpless human side, in a powerful scene in which he echoes the feeling that most of us experience at some point in our life and can instantly identify with; a feeling that is very much the essence of the story being told. The scene in question is a poignant, tearful moment, in which he pours out to his wife: "As a child, I wished and imagined life to be like a film which you could rewind and start over". Didn't we all?