Maja Miloš’s debut feature film “Clip” continues to tour the festival circuit, including stopovers at the Rotterdam International Film Festival, Buenos Aires International Fesitval of Independent Cinema, Montreal’s Festival Du Nouveau Cinema and, most recently, in AFI’s “New Auteurs” selection. With its exposure overshadowed by the bigger international players, it still managed to impress the Dutch so much in Rotterdam that they bestowed upon it the KNF Award, “given to the best feature film in the official section that is yet to find distribution within the Netherlands.” And while all the signs pointed to a quality picture, audiences tolerance for the picture may depend on how much despair they can handle in one sitting.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more curt title for a film this year, and after watching how it treats its subject matter it all starts to make sense. The story centers around high-schooler Jelena played by Isidora Simijonović, who breathes life into a wilting flower of a character and ends up being the film’s highlight. Jelena lives in a disheveled home and does everything in her power to stay locked up in her room, chatting on Facebook with her girlfriends, modeling on her own mobile phone, or using the ol’ “need to do homework” routine to get trashed at her friends’ place before a night of debauchery. The crush of her life, Djole (Vukašin Jaksić, doing an easy job of making you want to slap him in the face every time he comes on screen) leads a little gang of weed-smoking delinquents. The narrative blurs out into a soft-core porn, docu-style depiction of the lives of these post-war generation teenagers who are so lost and misguided that they end up being little more than ticking time bombs, waiting to OD on coke in the gutter or on some random dude’s couch.
The audacity to depict with such a stark eye a specific kind of miserable lifestyle that -- if we are giving the benefit of the doubt to Miloš -- plagues Serbian youth culture in modern day Belgrade is what no doubt got the film its KNF Award. Next to Simijonović’ brazen performance, the smaller standout factor is the methodology behind the approach: cellphone cameras and Facebook almost act as second unit cameras to portray an uncomfortably voyeuristic perspective on a generation spiraling towards the inescapable abyss of apathy. Intimate and private moments that a decade or so ago could barely be spoken about over the phone with your best friend are now recorded on iPhones without purpose or care and there is something pitifully hollow about that fact. For a director to not shy away from representing the truth as she sees it, no matter how crude, volatile and private it is, takes pretty sizeable balls and she deserves to have her film circled in festivals for that alone.
But there is a limit to this kind of madness, and in this writer’s opinion, the limit is crossed, ripped open, crossed again and then ploughed over for good measure. The film’s main issue is that the negativity and misery, which pervades the whole story, ends up drowning it, and the viewer is left completely and utterly depleted. And not with the kind of thought-provoking devastation that quality bleak films can leave you with (“Elephant” or “Requiem for a Dream” for example), but with the kind that leaves you scratching your head for a semblance of a message and asking yourself, “Can it seriously be THAT bad?” The characters, including Jelena, have so few redeeming qualities that you become suspicious of a certain kind of forced exaggeration to make a point. Once that indulgence is felt, whether you first notice it in the characters, the setting, the shots or the story, it begins to seep through the pores of every frame, playing the dual role of captain and iceberg to this sinking ship of a feature.
In an odd way, the lyrics of Fischerspooner’s “Just Let Go” come to mind when thinking about “Clip”. “Robbed of ration/Instinct gives rise. Robbed of ration/Audacious and precise. The body lunges forward/Defeating time” The film is deprived of all kind of rationale, giving itself away to a primal and instinctive kind of nature that is glimpsed in the performances and some shots. But not only does it defeat your time, it manages to beat your sensibilities senseless. The Dutch were not wrong in awarding it for its bravery, but the old maxim of whether the glass is half full or empty takes on a whole new meaning with “Clip” because the glass is shattered into pieces too small for reconstruction. [C-]