The Trap (Klopka)

Courtesy photo
Srdjan Golubovic/Serbia-Germany-Hungary 2007

“I’d do anything for my kids.” Almost all parents on the planet would say this without hesitation. The Trap asks if they really mean it.

Mladen (Nebosa Glogovac) runs an unsuccessful construction company and lives with wife Marija (Natasa Ninkovic), a teacher, and son Nemanja (Marko Djurovic, never annoying), in a tiny apartment. Around them in Belgrade, a grotty city where gypsies still roam the streets, are people of considerable wealth; no one is naive enough to ask where their money comes from. But Mladen and Marija are doing OK, and the family’s happy, until the day Nemanja collapses. He needs an operation fast, but the nearest hospital capable is in Germany, so national health won’t pay. “Find the money somewhere,” the doctor says. But where are they supposed to come up with 26,000 Euros? Marija swallows her pride and advertises in the paper, begging for help. Mladen is angry and embarrassed she’s made their troubles public, but against all hope, someone calls. The benefactor meets Mladen for a drink and offers to pay the whole cost. All Mladen has to do in return is kill someone.

This is certainly the first Serbian film I’ve ever even heard of and already is the official entry for next year’s “Best Foreign Language Film” Oscar. What it shows is a snowy, muddy country divided not by the conflicts which made it notorious, but gangsterism keeping criminals in clover while hardworking regular people scrape by. “They want us to die!” Marija cries after visiting a student’s Parisian-furnished home. “Everything in that house is worth my son’s life!”

This question “What price does a human life cost?” is made explicit in a confrontation Mladen has with the benefactor, who describes how the insurance payouts made after 9/11 were based on the salaries of the people who died. But talk is one thing – when Mladen locks himself in his bathroom with thousands of Euros in one hand and a loaded gun in the other, we have to ask ourselves what we would do in his shoes. The whole story is a bit like the scene on the Ferris wheel in The Third Man, except no one is speaking hypothetically. Glogovac has a reassuring demeanor and honest face; he seemed so familiar I would have sworn I’d seen him in something before, if his IMDb profile didn’t tell me otherwise. If Mladen (incidentally, Karl Malden’s real first name) wasn’t a nice guy that you cared about, his torment as he confronts the worst parts of himself wouldn’t matter. But he is a good man – at least, he starts out as one.

Srdjan Golubovic has built a tense thriller adapted from a novel by Nenad Teofilovic, on the simple premise that Mladen finds his options closing off as his son gets sicker. Golubovic’s previous film, Absolute Hundred (Apsolutnih sto), won a few prizes at small film festivals, but this one certainly deserves wider attention. I thought the film’s final two shots weren’t necessary, but that’s nitpicking. It’s played in Bosnia and at festivals around Europe but it doesn’t appear to be scheduled for release in the United States, or even Britain. The Trap is well-made enough to deserve a wider audience (especially when you consider how many eastern Europeans now live across the United Kingdom). The appeal is that – on a basic level – even if you don’t agree with Mladen’s choices, you understand why he looks at that gun.

© 2007 Sarah Manvel. All rights reserved.

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