As NATO bombs fall during the 1999 war between Serbs and Albanian separatists, an out-of-work husband and father takes a job driving a sturdy-looking white truck with a chained-up cargo from Kosovo to Belgrade. In Ognjen Glavonic’s brooding thriller and debut fiction feature “The Load,” stringy-haired, chain-smoking Vlada (a commanding Leon Lucev) carries himself as if what he doesn’t know about the gig can’t hurt him.
So he takes his instructions (“Once you start driving, no stopping”) and hits the road, traversing a conflict-ridden land he doesn’t recognize. Along the way, he picks up a teenage hitchhiker (Pavle Cemerikic), who reminds him of his own son back home, loses to thieves a treasured memento from his father’s service in World War II and comes to grips with how his willful ignorance will likely carry deep scars.
Glavonic, taking the harrowing subject of his 2016 documentary “Depth Two” into the dramatic territory of bleak war portraiture, sticks us in the cab with Vlada. We not only feel the stifling turmoil of his conscience-stricken sense of survival but also the chilly outlook on an ashy-gray landscape from which one might think only of escape and eventually the roiling ill at a literal and figurative burden.
The overtly graphic isn’t Glavonic’s visual style, but rather a cold, more powerful image seepage — what a man’s physicality says about complicity, and what a shot of the muddied ground near a hosed-down truck says about what war does to the ground, a land and the soul.
Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Playing: 8 p.m., Oct. 18 only, Acropolis Cinema, Echo Park Film Center