Dir: Djordje Milosavljevic. Serbia. 95 mins.

Prod co: Horizont 2000. Backer: The Ministry of Culture of Serbia. Serbian Dist: Metro Film. Int'l Sales: Horizont 2000, (+381 11 637 555). Prod: Ivana Mihic. Scr: Gordan Mihic. DoP: Zoran Petrovic. Prod des: Goran Joksimovic. Ed: Marko Glusac. Make-up: Marinela Spasenovic. Main Cast: Nikola Kojo, Ivana Mihic, Andrej Sepetkovski, Gordan Kicic.

Imagine a group of Tarantino-esque characters teleported to a whistle-stop railway station in a Polish wasteland, at a time when the Poles were making great films, and you will have a feeling of the ambience and mood of Milosavljevic's second picture. While his debut, Wheels, was well received on the international festival circuit, The Mechanism has already competed in Montreal, screened at Toronto and won the Best Art Film Award in Cottbus (Germany). It looks a sure-fire festival globetrotter, but otherwise its commercial prospects are dim.

While Wheels is a dark comedy, The Mechanism is a pitch-black drama with a few, mostly futile, stabs at comic relief. A hired killer and his young partner are waiting for their target at the half-deserted railway station. Under the impression that the intended victim has given them the slip, the frustrated assassin kills his sidekick, and then decides it is time to prove that no one can resist the mechanism of evil. The only people at hand to act as guinea pigs are a young, pretty teacher and a taxi driver who come across the killer at the station. A series of sadistic scenes ensue, in which the killer attempts to make his victims react and prove his hypothesis that no-one can resist the temptation of violence. He finally puts his theory to the test by begging the tax driver to kill him.

As the wounds from the repetitive brutal beatings spread under the hand of the make-up artist, probably the busiest crew member on the set, the film gets harder to view and to swallow. The thin script is saved, however, by Milosavljevic's self-assured and imaginative direction and by the remarkable performances of the cast, headed by Nikola Kojo and Ivana Mihic (who also produced). His DoP (Zoran Petrovic) invents some unusual camera angles and techniques, such as a quick combination of extreme long-shots and close-ups, and sudden changes of speed inside a single shot, that have the potential to come across as sheer exhibitionism. But Milosavljevic, and his editor Marko Glusac, always use them in the right place and at the right time, so that they will probably hurt only the most fanatical genre purists.