Wednesday, May 20, 2015

BHFFNYC ’15: Racket

You can tell what preoccupies a nation’s subconscious from the villains and nightmares that appear in its films. As one would expect, the Balkan War, the Siege of Sarajevo, and the frustrated attempts to prosecute war criminals have loomed large in many, many previous Bosnian-Herzegovinian Film Festival selections. However, this year’s slate suggests something of a turning of the corner, including several films addressing concerns New Yorkers understand only too well. That would be gangland shakedowns and public corruption in the case of Admir Buljugić’s crime drama—two New York traditions if ever there were any. Representing an intriguing change of pace in several respects, Buljugić’s Racket (trailer here) screens during the fondly anticipated 2015 Bosnian Herzegovinian Film Festival in New York.

Amil Pašić is a globe-trotting nature photographer, who does not come home to Sarajevo very often. His latest stop-over will be a mere seven days, to be divided amongst his father, his neglected best friend, and his even more neglected on-again-off-again girlfriend. However, his plans go out the window when his father has a heart attack induced by the stress of defying a protection racket.

Of course, Pašić is even more obstinate than his father. When he seeks out Bakir, the extorting gangster, he is not about to come to terms. Instead, he will be serving notice. However, that will not entail unleashing his inner Van Damme. Pašić is hardnosed, but not superhuman.

In fact, the just-rightness of the Pašić character and Adnan Hasković’s lead performance are what really distinguish Racket. He can easily beat up one gangster, but he is probably in serious trouble facing two or three. Striking an intense but not psychotic vibe, Hasković (he killed Jamie Bell in Snowpiercer) makes a compelling everyman action hero.

While admirably scrappy and impressively moody, Buljugić’s screenplay is still undeniably uneven. Frankly, it heads in a legitimately interesting direction, but his third act is rather perfunctory. Given his budget constraints, he might have been under-pressure to wrap things up quickly. Look, this is a rare case where we would argue thriller fans really need to relax and grade on a curve.

The truth is spending time with Pašić and his circle is rather enjoyable. In fact, it would be rather nice to see subsequent Pašić films come to BHFF, but with a few more zigs and zags coming down the stretch. Recommended as a rare Bosnian gangster film and for Hasković’s winning star turn, Racket screens this Saturday (5/23) as part of this year’s Bosnian-Herzegovinian Film Festival, a New York tradition for twelve years and counting.