Dir: Alberto Fasulo. Italy-Croatia. 2013. 85mins


We learn a lot about long-distance European truck driving in Alberto Fasulo’s slow-burn docudrama, which picked up the main Marco Aurelio prize at this year’s Rome Film Festival. The exhausting reality of the nomadic life lived by the film’s truck driver protagonist – played with utter naturalism by Croatian actor Branko Zavrsan – is central to this absorbing film’s effect. Sure, that means subjecting us to long periods of the same grinding work routine that separates Branko (also the character’s name) from house and home – but the end mostly justifies the means. For this is a tragedy about the pressures of work in a recessionary economy which allows its victims to live by taking away one of the things that makes life worth living: time of your own.

In small incremental steps, the film turns the screw on a man trapped and worn down by the very job that was supposed to make things better.

After its Rome premiere, documentary director Fasulo’s feature debut will undoubtedly pop up at other festivals, and could just conceivably score some arthouse distribution action beyond its core markets of Italy and the former Yugoslavia.

Zavrsan, a multi-talented actor and director whose most prominent screen appearance to date was as Deminer in No Man’s Land, trained for months and got a truck drivers’ licence to allow him to fully inhabit the role. Then he and Fasulo (who also shot the film) drove around Europe for another four months, covering over 30,000 km and actually making real deliveries, thanks to an enlightened haulage company owner who offered the actor a temporary job. None of this extra-textual information is presented in the film, but the biting realism of the exercise is strongly felt – thanks also to Fasulo’s matter-of-fact camerawork. It’s this documentary foundation that gives weight and directness to the drama that unfolds in a series of phone conversations that illuminate Branko’s past and present.

We learn that his significant other is schoolteacher Isa (the voice of Lucka Pockaj), and that Branko himself used to do the same job before giving it up to earn three or four times as much (he gives both estimates in the course of the film) as a long-distance haulage driver. Isa wants the reluctant Branko to return to teaching, even if it means a cut in salary – though later we realise that she counts on the money he’s earning, as does a married son who is keen to upgrade his apartment now that Branko’s grandson has been born. On one Italian trip, Branko travels with a co-driver, Maki (played by real truckie Marijan Sestak), whose three year-old son sulks for a week whenever daddy goes away, and takes days to get used to him when he gets back.

In small incremental steps, the film turns the screw on a man trapped and worn down by the very job that was supposed to make things better. The frustrations of a trucker’s life are well rendered: after driving the length and breadth of Europe, crossed lines at the haulage company can mean a wait of days before a load can be picked up. Meanwhile, back home, Branko’s woman is perhaps having an affair, or tempted to have one; while his grown-up son (we didn’t even realise he had one until he calls) treats dad like a cashpoint machine.

And although a trucker’s cab and rig is traditionally his reign and refuge (we see it serve here both as bedroom, kitchen and shower booth), the space is not inviolate anymore: as well as the phone calls from home, Branko has to deal with electronic onboard recorders which spew out tabulates of his driving times, as well as with cajoling bosses, themselves under pressure from clients, who talk Branko and Maki into swapping recorder cards and taking each other’s legally-enforced rest shifts so a delivery can be made more quickly.

In the background, autobahn Europe speeds by, with little clue as to where we are except the occasional traffic sign and, in one sequence, a dingy windmill between a cooling tower and some electricity pylons. The lorry’s cargos – pigs, apples, nectarines – are equally removed from any life-giving connection with nature: like Branko himself, they’re mere units of trade in an increasingly dehumanised working environment. This alienation wears down the soul, not only the sleep-deprived body: by the end, Branko is a man unable to make decisions that matter, living life on autopilot.

Production companies: Tucker Film, Nefertiti Film, Focus Media, RaiCinema

International sales: Fandango, raffaele.digiulio@fandango.it

Producers: Nadia Trevisan, Alberto Fasulo

Co-producer: Irena Markovic

Screenplay: Enrico Vecchi, Carlo Arciero, Alberto Fasulo, Branko Zavrsan

Cinematography: Alberto Fasulo

Editor: Johannes Hiroshi Nakajima

Main cast: Branko Zavrsan, Lucka Pockaj, Marijan Sestak