KARLOVY VARY – The competition films for the 2017 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival have focused on everything from human resources corruption (“Corporate,” better suited as a TV drama)to the long term affects of the Bosnian War (“Men Don’t Cry”) and the fate of an ousted president on the run (the disappointingly stiff “Khibula”). The latter two, in particular, provide an insight into Eastern European history that is certainly not given enough of a spotlight in the West. It’s somewhat strange then that two others prominent films in competition here, Onur Saylak’s “Dara (More)” and Peter Bebjak ’s “Čiara (The Line),” tackle refugee smuggling in Europe so passively even if it’s one of the most controversial issues facing the continent.
Bebjak’s “The Line” is an impressively polished and visually clever drama centered on Adam (Tomáš Maštalír, charismatic), a well meaning leader of a gang of smugglers operating on the Slovakia-Ukraine border in 2007. The operation is mostly small-time centering on cigarettes, but they also move refugees across the border when they have to (yes, American readers, his has been going on in Europe for quite some time). Adam is a tough, but fair boss who in his eyes is just trying to do right for his family which includes an 18-year-old daughter (Kristina Kanatova) who is madly in love with the cute goofball played by Oleksandr Piskunov (Hollywood casting directors should find this guy even though he isn’t on IMDB). When Adam discovers two of his runners have moved some meth across the border in one of his shipments without his blessing he does what any boss would do, he cuts one of their fingers off. They are eventually cool with it though because, hey, “family,” and Adam just had to do what he had to do, right?
The devil in this scenario is a ruthless Ukrainian mobster, Krull (Stanislav Boklan), who wants to push Adam into the more lucrative drug smuggling trade whether he wants to or not. And, obviously, you can’t have an Eastern European drama (or comedy for that matter) without the local police chief being paid off to look the other way (it might be a job requirement at this point).
Most of this is on the periphery, however, as Bebjak spends most of the first half of the movie focusing on the entertaining family dynamics that find Adam’s kids blissfully ignorant of the dangers that await their father or themselves. The film takes a dark turn when Adam is forced to handle moving a bunch of refugees across the border on his own and brings his soon to be son-in-law along for the experience. Bebjak focuses on one refugee who saves the life of another refugee when their party is ambushed by soldiers in the forest, but it’s merely a plot device to further his larger storyline of the eventual showdown between a not-corrupt criminal “family man” against the mob boss with seemingly no moral compass.