“When you throw a stone in water, something happens,” mutters one of the main players in Serbian filmmaker Srdan Golubovic’s third feature, Circles, one of many on the nose instances that bludgeons away the narrative’s first act subtleties as it fluctuates between three separate storylines that coalesce into an ungainly whole. A followup to his successful 2007 noir tinged The Trap, Golubovic’s latest isn’t without out its merits, but like its predecessor in the director’s filmography, suffers greatly from borrowing stylistically from one too many similarly themed ventures.
Beginning in 1993 Trebinje Bosnia, Marco (Vuk Kostic), a Serbian soldier on leave, returns home to see his lady love. Visiting with his close friend, Nabobs (Nebojsa Glogovac), Marco witness a trio of soldiers, led by Todor (Boris Isakovic) beating an innocent Muslim shopkeeper, Haris (Leon Lucev) in the street. While Marco valiantly intervenes, Haris escapes, and Marco is beaten to death, his friend Nabobs unable to help. Fast forward fifteen years later to 2005 Germany, and we find that Haris, now married with two children, helps Bosnian refugees in need.
A woman on the run with a child in tow suddenly shows up on his doorstep, and she happens to be Marco’s widow (Hristina Popovic). She has kidnapped her child to escape her abusive husband, and Haris, in order to repay the debt he owes Marco, goes out of his way to help the desperate woman, even with her violent husband hot on her trail. Meanwhile, back in Trebinje, the adolescent Bogdan (Nikola Rakocevic) has just been rebuffed for work by Marco’s father (Aleksander Bercek). It turns out that Bogdan’s father was one of Marco’s killers, and so begins a painstaking way for Bogdan to make amends for his now deceased father. Concurrently, Marco’s killer, Todor, ends up in a fatal car accident, his life now in the hands of famed surgeon Nabobs.
Throughout Circles, it’s made quite evident that it’s most often the negative actions of others that affect us, while positive actions go unnoticed. Beginning with an act of cruelty from a particularly violent period of conflict, it turns out that Golubovic’s premise is in fact inspired by a true event. And while not to detract from the seriousness or genuine gravity of its intentions, the film never quite seems to succeed beyond a mosaic of overcoming the past through paying it forward. That said, Circles does happen to be Golubovic’s most accomplished and most complex work to date, even if much of the ‘mystery’ surrounding the first half of this feature is accomplished more from a manipulative lack of information to skew and complicate the narrative.
Golubovic’s longtime DP Aleksandar Ilic has some outstanding cinematography in certain sequences, and each of the major players turn in fine performances, and all would be well if it weren’t for the nagging feeling that this had all been done before and to more memorable effect, which unfortunately, also hampers The Trap. Circles may lead one to recall the faint echo of a melancholy voice saying, “and by each crime and every kindness we birth our future….”
Reviewed on January 18 at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival – WORLD DRAMATIC COMPETITION Programme.