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Italian Truck Driving Movie Steals Spotlight From Hollywood

by Jana Ritter - Published: 11/18/2013

Tir is the Italian word for big-rig truck and "Tir" is the film that triumphed at the Rome film festival on Saturday, beating out the heavy hitting Hollywood competition including Spike Jonze's "Her," starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson, as well as Matthew McConaughey’s highly anticipated "Dallas Buyers Club."

People sitting

Though scripted, the film feels extremely documentary-like, with main actor Branko Zavrsan (from the Oscar-winning film No Man’s Land) actually driving a huge truck for over 18,000 miles during the film’s shoot and interacting with real truck drivers and clients who have no idea he’s an actor. The result was very life-like and enough, that the film was awarded the top prize by a jury at the Rome Film Festival, thus becoming the second local, road-themed, documentary-like and acronym-including title to win the main award at an Italian festival this year.

Branko (Zavrsan, extremely dedicated to his craft) is a Bosnian educator who took up employment as a truck driver for an Italian firm because the pay is three times what he’d earn as a teacher (about $600 a month instead of $1800). This type of biographical information is gleaned from phone conversations with Branko’s wife, for which there is more than enough time on the endless-seeming road.

Director, Alberto Fasulo tries to convey something of the “paradox” of being a breadwinner away from home, doing everything for one’s family short of actually ever being there. A scene in which he complains that he’s thousands of kilometers away but tries to be a good father for his son, via some quick decision-making on the phone involving a lot of money, gets a cold “try to be a husband, too” as a reply from his wife, who feels constantly left at home with the kids and also works as a teacher.

But the home-front drama remains mostly off-screen and Branko is seen simply doing his daily chores as a driver: drive, unload, wash up on the road, cook for himself next to one of the rear tires and shooting the shit with a colleague. This helps give an idea of what the lonely life of a truck driver is like.

Cinematography by the director himself thankfully refrains from being too edgy and arty, with Fasulo instead opting for calm and composed camerawork that won’t make the viewers seasick or claustrophobic (much of the film was shot inside the truck’s cabin). Sound work is solid and the lack of music reinforces the documentary feel.

TIR actually refers to the convention for International Road Transports (TIR is its French acronym) but is used in many European languages, including Italian, as a nickname for large trucks, since they often carry a TIR plate as well as a license plate.

The film’s success has not only put truck driving in the world spotlight, “Tir’s” international acclaim will likely get it US distribution and soon available for audiences here.