SEAT AT THE BACK - SCRIBBLES! ~ Films on the Seat at the Back playlist right now: KIDS IN LOVE; JUNE; CURVE; WILD, BARELY LETHAL; GODDESS OF LOVE; THE VATICAN TAPES .. What a night in!

Monday, 12 November 2012

'CLIP' (2012) ~ 'one of the most honest and provocative, explicit, hip 'n' horny, ultimately caring films I've seen in mainstream cinema in a long time'


* This review may contain 62-second snippets of blurry plot spoilers below - watch before reading! *

'Clip' (original title: 'Klip') played at the BFI's 2012 London Film Festival, a brave selection - and for me, was the clear standout. The film was also nominated as a contender for best first feature at the festival.
Clip is one of the most honest and provocative, explicit, hip 'n' horny, ultimately caring films I've seen in mainstream cinema in a long time. It deserves to have an audience among young people as much as it should be seen by those who remember - and even miss - the turmoils of being a teenager: when our lives were a raging mess of uncertainty and filled with a convincing lack of sanity while trying, at the same time, to keep looking and acting as controlled as possible, whether at school or around the family dinner table at home or even on a weekend shopping trip to a DIY store for some paint when you just couldn't understand, well - why!

This is a grown up coming-of-age movie that captures what it means to be young - thanks to a cast, who actually are.

In a world where the news is dominated by older men preying on the young; this film at times made for uncomfortable viewing in its depiction of teenage sexuality. But not really. Despite the acne-like rash of unsimulated scenes that are shown in their full, uncensored, unashamed entirety (making this easily the most explicit mainstream films to be seen on the big screen yet and rendering Larry Clark's 'Kids' from 1995 about as controversial as 'The Goonies') - the sex, drug-taking, vomit-ridden parties and extreme violence is never exploitative as such.

It's all portrayed and filmed realistically, and yes - the camera does like to linger on the young flesh of the actors involved quite a lot. But the film's theme: teenagers living their lives through short blurry clips shot on mobile phones and uploaded to social media sites, unable to separate their peer-pressured lives outside of the school gates (where friends are always in some way performing or playing a role that needs to be shared) with home life (where family problems drag you down and where there's no space left to grow up in peace anymore) - is one perhaps never before confronted in cinemas in such a realistic, heartfelt way.

This is a Serbian-shot film, and rather like that other shocker from a few years back - the heavily censored 'A Serbian Film', there is no let-up in the decadence on display here. At times, the film is (despite the sensitive issues parading themselves under tutting adult gaze) teasing and energetic, achingly oversexed - at other times, quite depressing. There's real emotion on display; at the end of the film there is a disclaimer that no underage actors were involved in the explicit scenes - or violence. What a wonderful disclaimer - I mean especially that 'no actual violence took place between the young actors'. Quite a deliberate statement on the part of the film's director - Maja Milos, who later in the Q/A makes the observation that films often get criticised for sexual content, something that's usually a positive human activity, while violence is more often accepted.

It's a brave step by the filmmaker to have such a young cast involved in a film that will attract such controversy; but then (despite the age rating restriction the film will get in this country) this film is really for young people. In fact - it deserves to be seen by a younger audience, possibly more so than the age group that an '18' certificate will actually ensure this film's audience will mainly be, by default. In other countries across Europe, there are fewer restrictions on age ratings for movies. Younger audiences than in the UK will be able to see this film in other, less cautious countries.
The BBFC have come under fire before for rating a film that appeals and has importance to a young teenage audience but burdened with a stupidly high certificate due to, for instance - the odd rude word (and Kick-Ass was rated 15 for the use, especially, of a 'C-word' by a pre-teen character - a decision that caused some outrage among those who thought the rating too high and those who felt it wasn't high enough; the 'C'-word being one of the last and most stubborn taboos). The film 'Made in Dagenham' (2010) about a strike by female workers at a Ford factory because of sexual discrimination was also rated a '15' due to earthy language, despite being free of sex and violence - a decision opposed by schools and politicians.

Writing in The Guardian, Stephen Woolley, producer of 'Made in Dagenham' commented: 'Maybe language is the final frontier for the BBFC. The C-word may have crept into Kick-Ass – uttered by an 11-year-old girl – but the censor still believes that as a nation we are happy for kids to watch images of extreme violence and horror, but must be protected from a word in common and constant use. I can't think of a single parent who would agree with that philosophy'.

What's it actually like to be a teenager in a modern and often fucked-up world? Even if the wild partying just goes on around you while you avoid getting involved yourself, you still have to watch some of your friends lose their self-control. That side of life, the film makes clear - is always out there, dictating to an extent your own actions and behaviour at a time when everything is done for a reason; to be recorded; to be liked or deleted; to look good when posted online. The dreaded 'peer pressure' - but maybe not even as patronising as that. Maybe it's more: just how life is now.  As a young person in an increasingly peer-pressured world, you probably have to be brave enough to say no quite a lot, should you wish to. 

Most coming of age movies look back on youth through the stylised safety goggles of writers or filmmakers who want to relive, exaggerate - or even make up their own childhood nostalgia and longings. 'Clip' is improvised by a young cast from the perspective of the age group this film is about - for that reason, it's a film like no other has dared attempt quite as purposefully before. The film 'Kids', that comes close, had kudos having a script written by the authentically youthful Harmony Korine and also having a young cast, but the director, Larry Clark, rooted his drama to a specific dazed and confused place and culture: the trendsetting, skateboarding street kids of urban New York - realistic no doubt, but also making no claim to widen its territory to encompass today's youth the world over, as Maja Milos says later at the Q/A that she attempted with her film.

The kids in Clip aren't the doom generation - just regular teenagers, creating a profile through social media that may not be at all what they are like away from the upload. Serbian teenagers form the cast in Clip, but Milos makes the point that the film could just as easily be set over here in the UK.

Clip has an uber-cool soundtrack. You may or may not make any sense of the following names in the credits: Rasta-U Krug, Rema Luda ft Needle-Ko Je On, Papi Jaaz-Nismo Isti ft DJ XB and Juice-Lifetyle. It doesn't matter if - like me - you don't recognise the names, the soundtrack is sense-heightening and driven one; also extremely loud and oppressive at times (when not being beautiful). It led to a walkout from a couple in the seats in front of me who complained (loudly!) that the thudding soundtrack was making the film painful to sit through - this sense of actually being in a club and barely able to hear anything being said reminded me of David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) that, in some countries, inserted subtitles to interpret the deliberately muffled (by noise) dialogue in a nightmarish red-neon club sequence (no subtitles, thankfully, were added to the UK release).

A question from the audience at the Q/A later mentions the explicit sex on screen and whether it was really needed. This is a last-minute question, the subject hadn't really been raised earlier. Director Maja Milos comments only that she is bemused as to why audiences express shock at explicit sex scenes - when sex is 'so great'! (And went on to make the point about mindless violence being more readily accepted in film.) You don't hear that kind of justification for censor-baiting content - that endorsement of lifestyle - too often at these kind of director Q/As.  

Maja Milos seduces the UK audience in front of her with pure wit, lots of laughter and a lilting voice. The director has a real zest for life and a clearly outlined creative purpose - if she had made a film sexualising a real-life mass murderer and turning him into a pin-up, claiming 'he wasn't such a bad sort after all', I think I could still almost consider forgiveness. She could well go on to become an important young film director from a country already ruffling feathers and making some serious noise in World Cinema.

And so, Maja Milos introduces her film with the warning that she didn't expect us to "enjoy the film" as such - but still wanted us to have fun! While the explicit content is handled with certain sensitivity, I wouldn't go so far as to say it's handled in a matter-of-fact or dry way - sex is accepted and viewed as a part of the experience of growing up for some.

Our focus is directed to Serbian teenager Jasna (a brilliantly assured and moving performance from new girl Isidora Simijonovic - don't let this be her first and only movie, Serbia!) and her relationship with a boy she meets at a party (who becomes Jasna's obsession) - Djole (played by a suitably boyishly wide-eyed, seething and moody Vukasin Jasnic - also don't let this be his first and only movie, Serbia!).

Thankfully, while Djole is a few years older than Jasna, the relationship never comes across as seedy and there is no abuse taking place in this film. That said, it's still unsettling at times to be present in this world that we are now observers within - especially when watched under the shadow of shock headlines in the British press as the film plays at the London Film Festival's premiere (which, by the way, is a full house) about celebrities using their fame to prey on the young (the unmeasurably upsetting 'Jimmy Savile and others' case being at full awful flow in the UK at this point).

Of course, it's not just celebrities who abuse trust, but also those in other positions of authority, including at home. The teenagers in this movie are pressured into expressing sexuality by their peer group (nobody else - no older predators) in the pictures and clips they post online and certainly, this is a depressing message at times in the film.

There's a life outside Jasna's family that the girl is struggling to be a part of and control her own part in. Of course, this includes the wild partying, the nights of fumbling first encounters (and mornings after, worrying if she has performed well enough for the camera - does she have all the right moves?). Sex in cubicles at nightclubs is seen as being quick and explicit, but not much of a turn-on - like a vodka jelly shot; down in one, then back to the dance floor.
Ultimately, for Jasna anyway, sex offers some kind of escape, a safety valve and progression into adulthood - the easiest rite of passage towards an eventually more grown-up relationship (a redemptive coda to the film) that will allow her to cope with sudden tragedy at home and find that escape she seeks. Sex is predictably just like the clips she and her friends get to talk about and watch.


Jasna isn't even allowed to touch Djole at first - he pleasures himself standing above her; telling her off if she tries to get any closer to him; she has to remain passive - while he can finish (in a POV explicit shot); intensifying the girl's ongoing frustration in wanting to 'go all the way' and her continuing inability to break free from remaining in 'not quite there yet' limbo (the sex in the film often symbolic of fumbling around with life in general as much as it is to do with body parts and 'getting that side of things done').

While initially Djole is unable to have a proper relationship with Jasna in the way you might expect, the moment arrives where she urges him to go further - and the game plan changes. There's an audible sense of relief, and life gets back on track - and audible is the right word. The sound effects are heightened sensually; relentlessly enticing - every sound a close-up, like an adult clip site with the sound turned up high. The boy's pretences and swaggering posturings suddenly drop and he is now only scared for her, that the act will hurt in some way; repeating this concern as a mantra - and revealing a tender, more caring side.

The ice has been broken and the young couple (in moments of some comedy value), freed of that awkward 'first time' find themselves 'going at it' pretty much everywhere - most memorably when stepping out of a lift into a corridor in the housing estate where they live (the behind-the-curtains coupling now out in the open and more daring - almost as if they are wanting the world to know; to shout it out loud!), Before long, the relationship develops into a more serious one, with more serious concerns - such as being able to stay together in a world where relationships are as short-lived as the clips that support them and under threat from predators of the same age wanting the same thing: the same girlfriend or boyfriend as you have.

Jasna is just a normal teenage girl escaping from the routine of family life and the most disheartening of commitments to help look after her sick father, who is dying of cancer. While she loves her father and there is a mutual respect, she can't cope with the idea of loss and refuses to accept his illness or the fact that her family are finding ways - such as taking in lodgers - to support themselves as they devote their lives to caring for him in the final stages of his life. In a poignant scene towards the end of the movie, the girl breaks down in tears in the only way she knows - as part of a clip filmed on her mobile phone (as so much of her life is).

I loved the smart kind of hopeful - yet unrelentingly sad - plotline focusing on the lack of emotion shown by Jasna towards her dad as his life slowly edges away (because, hey - parents should be there to be strong and a stable figure to rebel against and to shock; not feel sorry for and lose). Jasna's feelings of grief are only able to be accepted as part of a clip on her phone that she films quietly, her hand down by her side at the hospital bed. Isidora Simijonovic portrays her character's wild mood swings (from joy, excitement and flirting to burden-ridden, angst-attacked and wanting to ignore life's harshest realities in the hope they will go away - or even die) pitch perfectly and she's simply a revelation as a first-time actress.

Before long a kind of 'proper relationship' is formed between the two teens, one that gets increasingly serious (a standout scene where Djole is quizzed by all of Jasna's family at once is a lovely moment to show how, in a budding relationship, you can be like strangers at first, even when together, and then there comes a moment where you are part of everything together - an 'item', like ornaments on a mantelpiece; there to be gazed at, but sometimes to topple over and be broken, occasionally fixed, but most often swept up and forgotten).

This relationship though needs some light-relief and even 'bad things to happen' - to prove itself. Even sickening and unexpected drunken violence (all filmed on mobiles to upload later of course) in the film's pivotal moment, has some kind of validity (shocking though it still is - enough to warrant that disclaimer at the end that no underage actors took part in any of this!). Some kind of stability re-emerges from the ashes of red-eyed jealousy - a powerful feeling needed if you ever want to be sure that what you no longer have, is what you now need the most.

There's a real growing up going on here, over a short space of time; from living under the shadow of childhood to crawling with tiptoe feet into a kind of young adulthood; perhaps symbolised by the emotions shown on the film's most simple 'clip', where Jasna sheds tears for her father - the only way she can express emotion in a life led by quick clips of everyday life uploaded without shame. Even her friends spend much of their time taking pictures of themselves revealing as much as they dare in pics to post on their homepage. There's an almost ridiculous scene where a group of friends in a bedroom debate what revealing outfits they should wear for their updated profile pic. 

Maja Milos tells us that her film has been well received in Serbia, although the themes carry through to other countries across the world. This is also not, Milos emphasises, a film mocking the predatory West for bringing their evil technology to other countries such as Serbia and corrupting their impressionable youth!
The young cast were allowed to improvise throughout the film, even though Milos tells us, they all mostly followed the script (refreshing that the idea of improvisation is not wallowed in for the sake of selling the movie to the arthouse crowd) and that a real bond of friendship and trust developed on set between cast and director - they became friends. The teenage cast were all deliberately inexperienced actors; too young to have gone to and graduated from drama school and this authentic approach to the narrative from the cast (rather like Larry Clark's films such as Kids or Bully) gives the film a raw, real edge. The central role of Isidora Simijonovic's Jasna is clearly the standout of the film; vibrant, tormented, provocative and joyous.

The film's celebration (or acceptance) of 'clip culture' (and the recording of all aspects of daily life these days - especially the trivial) was brought home to me the day after the screening when I saw a series of pictures on a social media site of diners at a restaurant gathered around a table all taking pictures of the main course as it arrived. As the ice cream melted on this huge multi-layered dessert, the heat of the technology probably helped to ensure the sweet offering being snapped was gradually becoming less eatable by the minute.

We hide behind the screen; behind the quips on a Facebook page, a quick tweet or an Instagram update. In the past, the idea of split identities would be shown up in films such as Brian DePalma's 'Raising Caine', or pop personas such as the too-big-for-his-boots Ziggy Stardust (that David Bowie eventually killed off himself) or Stephen King's novel of alter-ego horror - 'The Dark Half', itself inspired by the real-life King's literary alter-ego Richard Bachman.

The most human - most real - moment of Clip isn't the short films these kids make or even the family heatbreak; it comes in perhaps the one scene played mainly for laughs. Poignant laughs, but still - perfect comedy,  constructed effortlessly. After Jasna has a line of cocaine with her new boyfriend (well sort of boyfriend!) Djole, they stumble out of the bedroom only for the poor boy to be greeted by the girl's mother who makes him overly welcome, fussing over him and asking all kinds of embarrassing questions about his own mother (a family friend it turns out) before asking him to sit down at the dinner table. Soon the entire family - relatives walking into shot as if from nowhere in a closely and claustrophobically-shot scene, all crowd around the red-faced boy, chattering away and making a fuss while he tries his best to be on his best behaviour and give the right kind of impression.

It's a scene worthy of any Woody Allen movie and played pitch perfectly by Vukasin Jasnic as the bemused lad; suddenly acting all polite, shy, sweet and overwhelmed - a real contrast to the boy who, just before bumping into the mother, had been doing all kinds of bad things with her daughter, let alone taking drugs with her!

But we don't judge. The spiral in this film is something of an upward one; moral decline or the stupidity of youth isn't the message here. The kids in Clip are breaking free of being that proverbial brick in the wall and developing their own identity. The quick and sudden discovery of another world out there; the freedom to do things they've never done before - is as unrestrained and unstoppable as the restrictions of old age will one day become. This excitement, even by the end of the film, has calmed a little (after that cathartic rush of extreme violence at a party between the teen players to establish the final guidelines) and the future, while not perfect, settled, boring - is at least a little more sure-footed.

There's a scene towards the end of the film where Jasna helps out at a children's hospital, making a friendship of sorts with a girl half her age. She can't cope when she finds out this girl is dying. All the children wish to be filmed on Jasna's mobile. It's a harrowing scene, but for those that survive - they are clearly the next generation. An obsession with technology and wanting to be filmed is there at an age well below those teenage years. The film's director even responds to a question about whether there will be a 'Clip 2' with the playful reply that she did consider (I think jokingly) moving on to the younger generation shown in the hospital and how they turn out in the years ahead!

What, then, is the difference between this movie and one, say, like 'Kids', from twenty years ago? Not much - the same worries, the same extremes of behaviour in the eyes of adults (but normal enough to those young enough to have this life as 'a norm'), the same life under an umbrella of rules (even if made to be broken). But the kids in Clip are less open to ridicule because their lives are more thought through - even in chaos and antisocial behaviour there's a determination to get the right angle, film the right shot and create the right impression.

It's not always a good thing - unlike the cast of Kids the teenagers in Clip are less able to express emotion away from a lens or the protective shield of a mobile phone or even the glare of a computer screen. Every clip is sacred. Every shot a money shot. Every tear in the eye a memory to be saved and uploaded. When Jasna cries for her sick father we don't really know if she is filming it all (secretly, absent-mindedly) for an upload on YouTube or as something to hide behind as a focus for her grief. In the hospital, visiting her father - she can't hold his hand when he asks, but (secretly) she films him offering it. If that's reality - of a kind, then it's better than nothing.

Words: Mark Gordon Palmer


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