Nominated for: In Competition Feature Films

In their professional career, a train driver inadvertently kills 20 to 30 people. This film begins with veteran train driver Ilija (Lazar Ristovski) during counselling, having just hit a car filled with six gypsy musicians. This is followed by young Sima (Petar Korac) fleeing his orphanage and attempting to kill himself on the tracks, a fate which Ilija prevents. At this point, one might imagine that Train Driver’s Diary is a soul-crushingly bleak insight to the lives of train drivers in Serbia. This would be wrong. Miloš Radovic’s feature is one of the most touching, and certainly funniest, pictures at Raindance. A black comedy of the darkest hue, Train Driver’s Diary is exemplary.

The story mostly follows Ilija and Sima’s life after the incident on the rails. Understandably, Ilija doesn’t want his adoptive son to follow in his footsteps and have to cope with the trauma he has, but eventually, he relents, and we see Sima struggle with an obsessive fear over his first kill. The film has a very difficult balance to maintain between being able to discuss suicide, accidental killing, and trauma in a sincere, but funny manner, and simply making light of these issues. It never fails to fall on the right side of this divide.

Credit is due all around on this production, from the sublimely delicate writing, which comes courtesy of director Miloš Radovic, to the faultless performances from each actor, be it the renowned Ristovski, or the non-actor Korac. The film looks beautiful styled as a fairytale, with the brightness of each character against their background and colours ever so slightly too vivid; even its appearance matches the tone in a deft manner.

“A black comedy of the darkest hue, Train Driver’s Diary is exemplary”

Lazar Ristovski’s performance as Ilija could have slipped into a heavy, sombre mood, which would have destroyed the film, but a surprising lightness to every scene, whilst displaying a troubled man, allowed Train Driver’s Diary to shine as the bizarrely wonderful feature it is. Special note goes to the sociology student, Petr Korac, who could very easily make an acting career for himself. His manic face when he first controls a train is a sight to behold, and not long after his sleepless eyes convey a sincere sadness to rival Ristovski’s.

As a film that sets out to explore the history of Radovic and Ristovski’s own family on the rails, Train Driver’s Diary has been received exceptionally well by those drivers who aided their research. The only complaint was from one who said it wasn’t funny enough. They have produced a touching portrayal of a life we struggle to comprehend, whilst striking an incredibly funny tone to match the coping mechanisms of the real life subjects of the story. As a film to simply enjoy, it is near faultless.

James Baxter-Derrington


Image: Miloš Radovic

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