Warranting the dubious honor of becoming Joshua Wiebe's favorite Slovenian film of all time is not a particularly daunting task. I am largely ignorant of Slovenian cinema — the sum of my Slovenian film-going experience stands at two: Bostjan Hladnik's superb and artfully presented Dance in the Rain, and Spare Parts, the film I seek to discuss here.
Spare Parts, or Rezervni deli, is hands down my favorite Slovenian film, and in this case it's a position I believe it will occupy for many viewings to come. It takes place in the small town of Krsko, Slovenia, and concerns itself with a young man, Rudi (played by the infinitely believable Aljosa Kovacic) and his transformation into a human trafficker of a certain aptitude. His best friend and partner, the older, cancer-ridden driver Ludvik, instantly takes to the kid as they drive foreigners to the border between Slovenia and Europe.
What Spare Parts does so well, like many great films (Taxi Driver, The Usual Suspects) before it, is make us identify with characters we don't necessarily want to identify with. The people in Spare Parts are universally despicable human beings, from the initially innocent Rudi to the egotistical biker, Geri, all the way through to Rudi's love interest, Angela.
The appeal for our sympathies begins early, with a seductiveness unseen in recent filmmaking, as Rudi discovers the depths of despair the refugees are plunged into by his co-workers. While his reaction is, as ours is, one of intense disgust, we soon are shown the human sides of these ruthless and vulgar people, understanding their perspectives and enjoying their company, subject matter which soon becomes frightening as the subjective narrative carries us through. In no time at all the naivete Rudi displays early on vanishes and he is laughing at other drivers' racist comments, and generally engaging in a sort of warped masculine camaraderie.
Director/writer Damjan Kozole understands blue-collar workers, and he brings that knowledge to the forefront of Spare Parts with technical grace and fluidity. The frightening sequences in dark forests with almost no light contrast nicely with the claustrophobic ones of Ludvik and Rudi driving together. A scene at a party seems to be the only one where Rudi is given the ability to interact with those outside his chosen profession, and even then he is relegated to the back burner, left behind by those engaged in socially acceptable occupations. Ludvik, a cancer survivor and bitter widower, is dynamically developed as at turns a sympathetic older male, turned sour by years of bad luck, and a disgusting minotaur, drinking his own urine and punishing those around him for their shortcomings.
Reminiscent of Stephen Frears' excellent Dirty Pretty Things, Spare Parts is a humane and well-developed exploration of the dark side of the human psyche. It stands without spectacle, wallowing in the squalor created by its protagonists yet keeping its head above water with wonderful performances, writing, and cinematography. As a sucker for films with a certain symmetry and cyclical nature, I rate Spare Parts above films of a similar nature simply for its excellent observance of structure and technical achievement, never drawing attention to itself but standing tall under scrutiny.