It’s been 12 years since Marko, a Serbian soldier on leave from duties during the 1993 ethnic war amongst Serbs, Muslims and Croats in Bosnia, stepped in to protect a Muslim shop owner, Haris, who was being harassed by three other Serbian soldiers. While the film does not show us, from the open, exactly what happened to Marko, it is clear that something horrible occurred.
12 years after that incident, Marko’s best friend, and a brilliant surgeon, Nabobs, finds himself in the unique situation of being the other person who can successfully operate on Todor, one of the three soldiers involved. Still angry about what happened to Marko, Nabobs must decide whether to take care of his patient or seek revenge.
At the same time, Marko’s father is building a church up on a hill. He needs assistance from two local boys, but balks when one of the guys, Bogdan, winds up being the son of one of the other soldiers involved. Even after Marko’s father sends Bogdan away, however, Bogdan returns and insists on helping the old man finish his church.
Finally there’s Haris, now living in Germany with his wife and kids, who has been approached by Marko’s widow to help her find work so she can provide for herself and her son. Unfortunately, Marko’s widow married after his death, and the man she chose is a bit of a psychopath, and he’s obsessed with getting his son back. Haris is stuck in a spot which could endanger his own family, but he knows that, were it not for Marko, he wouldn’t be alive anyway.
First off, if Srdan Golubovic’s Circles sounds complicated, it is, but not so much that it is actually hard to follow. It reveals its details slowly, and moves along at a very deliberate pace, but it never feels boring or confusing. For example, we know that Marko saved Haris’ life, and we know that, 12 years later, he is no longer alive, but the full story doesn’t come out until the very end of the film. It’s a nice touch that brings all preceding elements into a new light.
Ultimately, this is a tale not of revenge, or even one of redemption. There’s something going on here for each individual that is beyond those obvious themes. If anything, it’s more about forms of closure for each participant. Some need to get over grief, some need to get over their feelings of responsibility, or debt. It all comes together in a wonderful narrative tapestry that challenges the notion of no good deed going unpunished.
Circles is a film that keeps its tension level up throughout, with a feeling of unbalance that is noticeable enough for one to feel out-of-sorts with where the narrative might be going. It could’ve been a revenge horror story, or some overly schmaltzy redemption epic, but instead it approaches its themes with more contemplation than caricature for dramatic effect, resulting in more for the audience to sink their teeth into.