Wide World of Horror: ‘Varuh meje (Guardian of the Frontier’) – a lazy river with big ideas

Varuh meje (Guardian of the Frontier)

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Written by Brock Norman Brock, Zoran Hocevar, & Maja Weiss
Directed by Maja Weiss
2002, France/Germany/Slovenia

A lazy trip down a river turns into a nightmare. It’s a plot that has been tread on many times in the horror genre, and even more in the adventure and thriller genres. Varuh meje takes an interesting approach to the old girl known as the river trip. It approaches the trip from a decidedly female and nationalist perspective. Suffice to say if the viewer has no interest in Slovenia or in the role of women in Slovenian culture, then they need not bother with Varuh meje.

Coming from a female director in Maja Weiss, Varuh meje comes at its topics from a very female perspective. The commentary is layered, and often it’s so steeped in the relationship between Slovenia and Croatia that losing your footing is very easy. The angle of the modern female in Slovenia can be read into, but that also takes a modicum of cultural understanding. Add all of these factors up and the end product is a film that is hard to relate to or engage with.

That’s not to say that Varuh meje cannot be related to, because it can. There are certain instances where the film is going after universality over nationality. Those moments are in the minority though, and they give way in just about every instance to the Slovenia-centric elements of the film. Still, the viewer should be able to suss out that something is going on beneath the surface of Varuh meje.

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The strength of Varuh meje is in what is happening beneath the surface, but it’s also where the film takes a grave misstep. When Varuh meje ends it confuses ambiguity with commentary. Cinematic endeavors don’t need concrete endings, but they should either supply a concrete ending or establish ambiguity with a purpose. Varuh meje provides plenty of ambiguity with individual purpose. Where it’s lacking is in giving a collective meaning to its ambiguity. In that sense the film plays out like a puzzle where the person putting the puzzle together doesn’t quite grasp how to make the individual pieces fit together.

Varuh meje is borderline in its horror aspirations, just as it is on the border when it comes to its overall quality as a film. There are aspects of Varuh meje that are praiseworthy, but there are more aspects that are muddled and clumsily thrown together. Gospodična Weiss’ film isn’t a disaster, but it is a slight disappointment.

-Bill Thompson




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