Dir: Djordje Milosavljivic. 2000. Serbia. 93 mins.
Pro co: Cinema Design. Int'l sales: Cinema Design, tel +381 11 488 23 77. Prod: Ljubisa Samardtzic. Scr: Milosavljivic. DoP: Dusan Ivanovic. Prod des: Vladislav Lasic. Ed: Branka Ceperac. Music: Lajko Felix. Main cast: Dragan Micnovic, Nikula Kojo, Anica Dobra.
If further proof is needed that talented film-makers can flourish under oppressive regimes Djorde Milosavljevic's Wheels is certainly it. By turns a black comedy, a brain-teasing murder mystery and a sardonic comment on the chaos that is the former Yugoslavia, the film is an uncomplicated delight.
An unemployed man is driving through the mountains in the pouring rain. After a brief encounter with a menacing-looking hitch-hiker, who tells him the road ahead has been washed away, he finds he has a flat tire. In quick succession, he is nearly run down by a car that he tries to stop for help, and then almost arrested by policemen chasing a fugitive serial killer.
He finally arrives at the Wheels Motel - the only shelter for miles around - to be greeted with suspicion by the saturnine owner and guests crowded around the TV, as he fits the description of the killer they have heard about on the news. When they discover he is carrying a gun, they decide to hold an impromptu trial and toss him off the nearest bridge if they find him guilty
Through a series of desperate manoeuvres, he not only staves off execution, but uncovers the guests' true, crooked identities - including a drug dealer and a gun runner - while "accidentally" killing one after another as the story builds to its brilliant, if wacky, surprise ending
A comic strip artist turned screenwriter and director, Milosavljevic sharply individualises his cast of unsavoury characters and keeps his plot gears clicking briskly along. Wheels is also timely. Now that TV shows about strangers locked in houses or stranded on islands are drawing monster ratings, even audiences who rarely read subtitles may be ready for this unlikely little gem from Europe's most unfunny country.