Consequences, the feature debut from Slovenian filmmaker Darko Štante, is a brisk and brash cinematic statement. Inspired by the director’s own experiences working in a young offenders’ institute — where he still works — it tells the story of 18-year-old Andrej (Matej Zemljič). Sent to a correctional facility for sexual assault, he falls in with alpha bully Žele (Timon Šturbej); as the story progresses, it becomes clear that our troubled protagonist’s interest in Žele goes beyond a shared affinity for casual criminality and drug use.
With its choppy, handheld style, naturalistic depiction of same-sex relationships, and hard-hitting soundtrack of domestic trap, Consequences is a striking first foray into feature filmmaking for Štante, receiving a world premiere at Toronto 2018 before screening last week at BFI Flare, London’s biggest LGBTQ film festival. It also looks set to shake up perceptions of Slovenian cinema, and provoke debate about youth criminality and LGBTQ representation in a tiny nation often lauded abroad for its progressivism. Štante spoke to The Calvert Journal following the film’s London screening about his inspirations and influences, the place of LGBTQ narratives in Slovenia, and the challenges of small-country filmmaking.
I was working at this correctional youth facility. I saw lots of things. That’s what drove me. I used to work there as a kind of teacher/social worker. There was a situation where I had a young guy who I recognised very quickly was gay, but who didn’t want to come out. I was talking to the psychologist about it and he said, “no, I don’t think he’s gay, it’s not a problem, he’s just experimenting.” I kept trying to tell him to talk to the boy and eventually he said, “OK, stop this. I won’t talk to him because if he were gay, he couldn’t stay at this institution.” That alarmed me: “What the fuck? Where am I working?” It’s an environment where you should help young people, not exclude them. That’s where I got the idea to do this story. I was working regularly at the facility while doing my master’s degree at film school, making documentaries and short films. When I got the funds for a feature film, I asked for the night shift so I could shoot in the day and work at night. It was very hard, but I’m OK with it. Working there gives me the freedom to choose my projects.
I wanted to give the audience the feeling of falling into the scene. As though it’s real. At first, I wanted to make a documentary about the facility, but I discovered that it would be impossible to do it the way I wanted. I wanted to do a cinéma vérité kind of thing, but there are too many rules. I would have needed permission from the Ministry of Education, from the boss of the institution, from the parents, from the kids. I could make a PR movie, but I wasn’t interested in that. So, I decided to do fiction in a documentary style. I like Ken Loach, British Social Realists, the Dardennes brothers, Dogme 95. I wanted to do it like that, stylistically.
From the outside, it looks like things in Slovenia are alright when it comes to LGBTQ issues, but they’re not. I didn’t intend to do an LGBTQ story. But it is an issue in Slovenia, so it’s a story that should be told. It’s OK in terms of the law. But if you dig a bit deeper, you’ll see that there’s a big difference between what is promoted in a formal way and the reality. Things are OK in Ljubljana, but if you go outside of the big city you see that people have lots of prejudices. So, this topic should be approached by directors and artists. There has never been a mainstream film about LGBTQ issues in Slovenia. The critics love Consequences, but the audiences — not so much. In Ljubljana it was quite a hit. But outside… I had some school screenings where I was almost attacked. It was horrible. At one screening I almost called security. They were like: “what the fuck have you done? Why did you have to make the character gay?”
Slovenian society is very traditional. It’s years behind the West. Even 30 years after our independence from the former Yugoslavia, when we’re not an “Eastern” country anymore, our points of view and the way people act are still very traditional. People behave as though everything was OK, as if we were moving in the same direction as the democratic world, but it’s not true — we’re always walking a little behind. Things are not developing organically.
If you talk about the “film industry” in Slovenia, people will laugh at you. Our whole budget for one year is €4 million: for all the films, documentaries, short films, festivals, education, everything. You can’t do much with that. We shoot four or five feature films per year and that’s it. The good thing is that we’re such a small country that funders don’t expect commercial success when they give out money — which means as a director I can do things my way. In Slovenia, we’re sometimes too much caught up in ourselves, we don’t see what’s happening around us. We don’t take a critical point of view of what’s happening in society. That’s why our films aren’t as successful as they could be. We could do almost anything we want — we could be more critical, more open to the problems around us. Then our films would be more accepted abroad, at film festivals. The problem in Slovenia is that people would like more Hollywood-style pictures: “Why don’t you do more comedies, actions films?” But when they do make them, they’re horrible and no one wants to watch them anyway. So, you don’t have commercial success within Slovenia and you don’t have critical success abroad. You get nothing out of it.
You have to make films that the audience wants to see. I don’t just make films because I’m an “artist” or whatever. I like it when people like my films. I’m very happy when the cinema is full. Consequences is not a “bad mood” film! But you have to be critical too. They can go together. In the UK you do this very well — I, Daniel Blake is a very watchable film, but it’s critical. You can have both. You have to be more open.