TIFF Review: Consequences

TIFF Review: Consequences

Consequences is a film of firsts — this is director Darko Štante’s first film, it features the debut performance of Matej Zemljic in the leading role of Andrej, and serves as Slovenia’s first entry into TIFF in nearly ten years. There are some films where you buy a ticket and kind of have an idea what you’re getting yourself into — this is not one of them. As I settled into the theater at almost 10:00pm on a Friday evening, I braced myself for a film that I imagined could go either reasonably well or very very badly.

What actually transpired was remarkably impressive for a film debut. Štante weaves a compelling story of a teenage boy in Slovenia who has become such a handful for his parents that his mother goes to court and petitions that he be sent to a group home for juvenile delinquents. (The director drew from his own personal experience working in one such home, and his intimate knowledge of their internal politics and fatal flaws brings a more complex dynamic to the film.)

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It’s clear from the beginning that the men running this home are uniquely ill-equipped for the job — they are hampered by bureaucracy to the point where they have no actual power over the kids, and the majority are so terrified by their charges that you can almost see them flinch when the teenagers posture and act tough. These supervisors don’t have an ounce of prison guard about them: they’re caring but overworked and physically dominated by the young men they are supposed to be disciplining.

Andrej is our protagonist, and he is certainly a character of contradictions. He’s occasionally violent and generally erratic, but has a strong and loving connection to his pet rat. He seems confident and even aggressive at times, but there are moments when a moral compass rears its ugly head and his remarkably expressive face shows every single emotion that he’s trying to hide. He isn’t a boy that we like, necessarily, but he’s the sort of captivating individual that we can’t help but want to see the best in.

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This is aided by a complex and mature lead performance from Matej Zemjlic, made all the more impressive by the fact that this is only his second film appearance ever. His ability to be strong and appear as a charismatic natural leader while also being intensely vulnerable reminds one of River Phoenix in some of his more interesting roles, and I look forward to seeing what he does in the future.

(Side note: I was even more impressed by the transformative nature of his performance when he turned up for the post-film Q+A as such a soft-spoken, bespectacled figure it was difficult to see where the angry young hoodlum had even come from.)

 Matej Zemjlic and director Darko Štante

Matej Zemjlic and director Darko Štante

Ultimately, the film showcases the spiraling effect of the decisions that Andrej makes, including the estrangement between him and his parents, his choice to develop a close relationship with the bully of his juvenile home, Zele, and the frequently violent and always illegal schemes that he allows himself to be caught up in. It’s an exploration of hypermasculinity where boys, especially those like Andrej who carry the burden of being deeply closeted in a conservative culture, feel constant pressure to meet heteronormative norms that send conflicting messages that link violence and the male identity.

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Consequences has an important story to tell about the problems that face Slovenian youth, and benefits from the director’s first-hand experience in juvenile detention facilities as well as a remarkable leading turn from Zemljic. If it occasionally suffers from a lack of experience behind the camera, the nuanced storytelling and naturalistic performances more than make up for any shortcomings, creating a poignant drama that leaves a lasting impression on the viewer and should be considered quite an accomplishment for all involved.

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