A Film a Week - Escort

 previously published on Cineuropa

The death of Croatian filmmaker Lukas Nola last October saddened many people beyond the narrow framework of the Croatian cinema scene. Respected by colleagues and beloved by actors and crew members, he was regarded as one of the good spirits of his national cinema. His final work, Escort, has just premiered at the Pula Film Festival, and feels like the helmer’s last cry against the violence and injustice in the very fabric of Croatian society.

The protagonist, Miro (Živko Anočić, who collaborated with Nola on his 2013 film Hush), is a master in the commercial video business. We meet him on an alcohol- and cocaine-fuelled get-together with his buddies Dado (Hrvoje Barišić) and Berak (Igor Kovač). The last thing he tells them before each goes his own way is that he has never cheated on his wife, Darija (Hrvojka Begović), with whom he has two kids and is starting a new family life and business in the countryside. He is also a responsible person who would rather sleep in a hotel room than drive while drunk. But at the hotel, Miro gets a surprise visit from a young woman named Maja (Lena Medar), who says that she is from the agency and that everything has been taken care of. Miro assumes this is a prank from his friends and goes along with it, engaging in a sexual encounter with the call girl, sprinkled with more cocaine.

Afterwards, when he finds her on the floor unable to move or breathe, his first impulse is to call an ambulance and the police, but the hotel receptionist, Belc (Krešimir Mikić, effective as a well-spoken menacing presence), has other ideas to save both the hotel’s and the guest’s reputation: he enlists the help of the doorman, Davor (Nikša Butijer in one of the best roles in his career), who can arrange things for a small fee. From then on, the two men keep coming back to disrupt Miro’s idyllic life, asking for “small” favours that keep getting bigger and bigger. Where can he draw the line?

For the most part, Escort is an impressive work of cinema on almost every level. The dialogues consisting of vague threats and the stories which expose the blasé lifestyle of the upper layers of Croatian society as well as the lower layers’ ill-conceived rhetorical attempts at class combat are carefully written. The structure, consisting of longer scenes and sequences divided into shorter takes (most often in close up), also works quite well. Nola is also good with his actors, casting them in roles that fit their established strengths; Anočić, in particular, is at last able to show the wide range of his talent in the very complex role of a man embroiled in a very unpleasant situation, with a certain though not particularly firm moral compass.

The technical aspects of the film are also on a very high level. Frane Pamić shoots the highly stylised scenes masterfully, with stark contrasts of lighting between reddish indoor scenes and the blue-grey outdoors. The score by Aleksandar Pejovski, ranging from neoclassical to slow and moody rock, dictates the tense atmosphere, while Slaven Zečević’s sharp editing ensures that the two hours of runtime are not felt. The only problems come up with the second to last sequence, filmed in a vertical video format for no apparent reason, and whose wildness deviates quite a bit from the rest of the film. Nevertheless, Escort works well as a piece of social commentary and as a largely masterful piece of cinema.

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