Sunday, September 09, 2012

TIFF ’12: Clip

Never a wise policy, censorship sometimes elevates the importance of a work that would otherwise not have received much international attention.  That was a risk Putin’s loyal censors were willing to take when they gave the preemptive hook to an explicit new Serbian teen drama.  As a result, Maja Miloš’s Clip (trailer here) will probably make far more eyes pop when it screens during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival.

Nothing really counts to Jasna’s generation, unless they record a clip of it on handheld devices (hence the title).  Either directly or indirectly, they have absorbed the values of hip hop and pornography, leading to wanton hedonism and pronounced friction with their parents.  Viewers will see a lot of her and her friends drinking, partying, and engaging various forms of unprotected sex.  On the other hand, we will not see much of them working, studying, or even helping out around the home.

What plot there is revolves around sixteen year-old Jasna’s pursuit of Djole, the slightly older son of a former family friend.  There is nothing he can ask that she will not do, because she never finds any of it deviant or humiliating.  This is normalcy to both her and him.  Yet, just like all those cautionary warnings mothers used to give their daughters about giving away free milk, Jasna’s relationship with Djole (if it can be called that) will take a dark turn.  Meanwhile, she remains unmoved by her mostly likely dying father’s slow deterioration, much to the consternation of her mother.

Isidora Simijonovic is absolutely fearless as Jasna—and not just in terms of the film’s lurid content.  It is quite an emotionally naked performance as well.  As her ailing father, Jovo Maksic brings a sense of dignity and gravitas to the Clip’s few quiet moments.  The rest of the kids though, are nearly interchangeable, which might be intentional.

Frankly, you do not have to be a Philistine or a Neo-Soviet bureaucrat to think Clip borders on pornography.  The sex is graphic, but thoroughly unappetizing (pay-per-view porn sales will probably decrease in festival hotels on the nights it screens).  According to the end titles, no minors were filmed simulating sex acts, but Miloš sure makes it look otherwise.  Despite the many body (and organ) doubles she employed, there is something very unclean about it all, in a Larry Clark kind of way.  Regardless of their respective merits, sexually provocative films like Elles and Nuit #1 were nowhere near as explicit, yet they never feel stifled by self-censorship.

Much has been made about Clip with respects to the Kremlin’s campaign against the all-girl punk rock band Pussy Riot, which some consider to be at the behest of the Putin-supporting Patriarch Kirill I.  However, it is hard to believe the Orthodox Church is that current on below-the-marquee film festival selections.  Considering how thoroughly the Russian regime has co-opted the younger generations (as Lise Birk Pedersen documents in the ever more timely Putin’s Kiss), it is more likely they would simply conclude a film that challenges young peoples’ unexamined complacency is just bad for business.

Indeed, there is a very real point to Clip, much like the old public service announcements: “it’s eleven o’clock, do you know where your children are?”  This is a brutally naturalistic look at alienated youth in a place of social and historical uncertainty.  Jasna’s parents lived through the war.  Call them the Clinton Generation, who witnessed and perhaps participated in atrocities.  The youngest of their ranks would join Otpor, overthrowing the Milošević regime.  They would be the Bush Generation.  Jasna and her  friends (for lack of a more fitting word) therefore belong to the entitled Obama Generation, who want to party all night and expect someone else to pay for it all.

As grim and oppressive as the Socialist housing projects it was shot in, Clip will never be able to live up to the notoriety the Russian government has granted it.  It is a serious movie, but it needlessly pushes the boundaries of art cinema propriety.  Though not recommended (except for hardcore Putin critics), the curious may still want to see it for themselves when Clip screens Monday (9/10), Wednesday (9/12) and next Sunday (9/16) during this year’s TIFF.