Directed by Maja Milos
Contemporary Serbian cinema gives the rest of the world a run for its money in terms of shock value: Pushing boundaries and breaking taboos, most recent films from the country that have been making the festival circuit have developed a rather scandalous reputation. A Serbian Film, a torture porn film evoking (not particularly well) the horrors of genocide and war, was banned in multiple countries for its depictions of incest, extreme violence and child rape (newborn porn finds its origins here). In comparison, the newest Serbian movie to shock audience, Clip is perhaps tame. However, it’s graphic depiction of sex, especially among its teen characters, will sure to ruffle some feathers.
Clip mixes first person camera work with a third person narrative, and explores the excessive life of a beautiful teenager, Jasna. The difficult life of Serbia seems to colour all aspects of life as public institutions are failing and falling apart. As we are introduced to the home life of Jasna, her mother is on the phone with the doctor asking for an ambulance. Jasna’s father is very ill, probably suffering from lung cancer, and the person on the other line is reluctant to send an ambulance because he had been to the hospital earlier that day. The argument is petty and desperate and represents very effectively the horror of this world. Violence, sex and drugs seem to be the only escape from this ethically and financially impoverished existence.
Much like A Serbian Film, Clip does not quite hit its mark. Instead of hard hitting and shocking, it feels exploitative and rather dull. Though the use of digital points of view is conceptually interesting, the faithfulness to realism ends up being a downfall, creating far too many unintelligible images. Strangely, the film falls for similar aesthetic pitfalls as A Serbian Film as well, as both films adopt a style that is far too American, which seems to be in direct conflict with its content. The film feels pornographic, not because of the sex, but due to the almost desperate need to shock and its ability to revel shamelessly in tragedy. The world presented is chaotic, with no real layer of hope. Even though these characters are not necessarily monstrous, they seem to lack in personality.
Part of a recent legacy of films bent on breaking sexual taboos with depictions of real sex onscreen (including most recent work by Breillat, The Brown Bunny, Shortbus and Lars Von Trier’s upcoming film Nymphomaniac), reception surrounding Clip is notably centered on its controversial nature. Comparisons to Larry Clark’s Kids has furthered this reputation and the integration of cell phone video, creates a more intimate form of realism that will unnerve more sensitive viewers.
The difficulties of these types of films have to do with its reception. A film like Clip places the cinematic experience in an uncomfortable light, focusing the ambiguous space of the movie theatre that exists between public and private space. It brings the privacy of sex to a public sphere. Consciously or not, we feel scrutinized and as a matter of self-defense we feel the need to judge those that surround us. We want to forget our own perversities, so we suddenly focus on the desires of others and try to detach ourselves from the experiences of the screen. This worry is one that is central to debates of censorship; it is never the fear that an image will promote violence in the SELF as much as it will in the OTHER.
Unfortunately most films that aspire to depict sexuality in a frank and real way, often present an extreme version of the world. Through these associations, these filmmakers tie sex, a normal and often wonderful thing, with the taboo. In the case of Clip, it is far more than teens engaging in sexual activities, it is teens spiralling out of control, engaging in risky, disturbing and self-destructive activities. It is not that sexual acts are in and of themselves degenerate, but the context in which these acts are presented makes them feel inherently wrong. In my mind, it is probably only Catherine Breillat who has treaded the line of sexual discomfort and taboo without ever veering too deeply into exploitation.
If depravity is irresistible to you, Clip is sure to satisfy your urges. Though Clip is often lackluster and fails to really overcome its shock value, the film is nonetheless interesting in context of recent Serbian cinema. It is probably the strangest growing national cinema; I will wait on someone clever to think up some punchy name for this apparently growing movement out of Serbia.