Billed as the first-ever queer-narrative film to come out of Slovenia, “Consequences” ought to be given props for its initiative — but perhaps not much else. As far as coming-of-age narratives go, it is standard fare, vacillating between staccato facets of teenage angst without much room for breath in its brisk 95-minute run time.
After being arrested for several misdemeanors, Andrej Podobnik (Matej Zemljic) is sentenced to an ineffectual young men’s detention facility for five days a week. At the “Center,” the rules are clear and the enforcement is nonexistent, leaving residents to “Lord of the Flies” it up under the myopic gaze of barely-there supervisors. “You can’t change your group,” the administrators repeatedly tell Andrej upon his arrival. What sort of groups — For counseling? For activities? — is never quite made clear, rendering the slogan more of a trite social metaphor than a functional plot point. It is within this facility, a lackluster combination of college dorm and prison yard, that Andrej meets Zele (Timon Sturbej) and becomes inducted within the latter’s drug-dealing business, sneaking back out to the city and shaking down Zele’s buyers for extra euros.
As with most coming of age flicks, a checklist of items is steadily hit upon as the film progresses: A few dimly lit party scenes flush with cups, headlights and electro-pop tunes, check. A lonely shot of the protagonist at a bus stop with a billboard providing the primary illumination, check. Brief and bloody brawls filmed in shaky tracking shots, the camera following flying fists in their arc — triple check.
The film’s dispassionate and ruthlessly episodic cuts between scenes communicate a tangible disillusionment that’s fitting for the bildungsroman setup, yet is also plainly formulaic. Andrej makes friends with a fellow resident over metalworking class in one scene, throws punches over a foosball table in the next and broods alone in his aesthetically red-backlit bedroom after. His eventual falling in and out of love with Zele is portrayed as a foregone conclusion, the speed and violence of their interactions evading any audience investment even before an on-the-nose billboard for “Madame Butterfly” appears in a scene’s foreground, broadcasting the tale of the betrayed lover.
As a result, while Andrej is not an unsympathetic character, there are few opportunities for the audience to get to know him. Cast as an outside party, the viewer is invited to disapprove of every terrible decision he makes; they, like the detention counselor who uselessly sighs that “there’s going to be consequences” after a fight breaks out, are not given much space for empathy for someone who refuses to confide in those around him. Something is always happening to him or around him, and most times, he simply responds without evidence of thought. It is telling that one of the only lingering moments of stillness occurs in the film’s closing shot, capturing Andrej’s loss and hurt.
And so by the time the characters’ pivotal confrontation swings around, its cause is depressingly expected. In a movie whose adult caregivers constantly threaten consequences without delivering anything other than paper forms and empty rebukes, Zele’s final retribution against Andrej is a cold reminder that society, rife with prejudice, will dole out its own consequences when it sees fit.
This particular plot development — in which administrative failures give way to the Wild West of public opinion — parallels Slovenia’s own rocky history of LGBTQ+ rights legislation and transforms the Center’s laughable incompetency into civil critique. As the audience waits for the other shoe to land, the sparse conversation between Andrej and Zele soon after they first kiss sums up the tension of identities in limbo — “Now what?” Andrej asks Zele just before the latter drops him off. “What do you mean?” “Everything.” Zele does not respond, but glances instead toward the car’s full back seat, crammed with eavesdropping acquaintances. The status quo of keeping personal information private is the film’s greatest enforcer, offering plenty of motivation for characters to silently comply with any demand when intimidated with exposure. It is fitting, then, that a film spotlighting ramifications closes on its protagonist feeling as though he has nothing more to lose.
“Consequences,” which premiered last year at the Toronto International Film Festival and begins its limited U.S. distribution in August, is worth a watch — though not narratively groundbreaking. Its accounts ring true to life, but as a whole, it is not especially evocative in plot or artistry. Perhaps that is a privileged stance, held by an American perspective in which gay narratives are, comparatively, more widely available in mainstream depictions. But with activists continuing to push for greater LGBTQ+ acceptance and representation — and this being burgeoning director Darko Stante’s first feature film — there is hope for ever-increasing public discourse and future stories to tell.
Contact Anna Ho at [email protected].