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Clip | AFI Fest 2012 Review

She Shame: Milos’ Debut a Frank Dichotomy of Sexual Exploration/Degradation

Maja Milos Clip PosterAnother notable entry in a quickly growing slew of controversial titles coming out of Serbia is Clip, the directorial debut of Maja Milos. The highly factious subject matter of her film seems to be in keeping with the country’s current cinematic tradition, giving us confidentially unpalatable narratives and images that force us to experience current social climates as well as witness the disturbances still being processed by a recent and terrifyingly horrific past. Sexual exploration is a tricky subject matter on film, often heavily stylized to meet Western ideologies of either a mainstream or an arthouse aesthethic, and more often not, tends to be unsettling and uncomfortable. The same cannot be said of Milos’ debut, an antagonistic feature, one that needles and more often than not, disturbs.

Jasna (Isidora Simijonovic), an overall ordinary teenage girl in the less financially stable suburbs outside of Belgrade, has recently acquired a new cell phone that does more than just text. In fact, we meet her being taped on it by what seems to be an older male interviewing her about what kind of sex she likes. It turns out that they’re at a party and they’ve stolen away discreetly to a quiet room. At home, we discover her father has been diagnosed with a terminal disorder, and is awaiting a procedure that could very well save his life, but chances are, he may die soon.

Jasna’s mother is completely wrapped up with her ailing spouse’s health, engaging hysterically with Jasna and her younger sister or simply letting her older rebellious daughter do whatever the hell she pleases, the much repeated excuse of “I need to study” a catch all excuse to avoid helping care for the ailing patriarch. Jasna insistently films herself and friends as they party, get into fights, and consume drugs and alcohol. She becomes fascinated with an older boy, Djordje (Vukasin Jasnic) at a party, and with some insistent pursuit on her part, she’s soon fellating him in bathrooms, and other public areas before graduating to more penetrative sexual acts in his mother’s apartment, and most instances are filmed by one or both of them on her phone. As her father’s surgery looms, her mom gets more frenetic, while Jasna retreats further and further away into her degrading sexual odyssey with the emotionally careless Djordje, who turns out to be the son of her mother’s best friend. But Jasna starts to unravel when Djordje reveals some of his true feelings about their relationship.

When we first see Jasna, she’s literally in the shadow of a male figure filming her aggressively about sex. In essence, we can perhaps read the rest of Jasna’s behaviors to be an effort at reconciling her rebellion against the dominating male shadow (her distancing herself from her dying father) and her repeated attempts to throw herself into the obliterating sexual domination of Djordje. There’s a definite lived in realism to Clip, as we watch Jasna’s hollowed out eyes when amongst her family, stranded amongst piles of messy laundry in her room and acting out empty, unnecessary cruelty upon an overextended mother she refuses to help.

Most people will have a problem with the frequent and explicit amount of sex, including an extreme amount of oral sex, followed by anal, and some good old penile/vaginal roughhousing. Actress Isidora Simijonovic was fourteen years old at the time of filming, so a double does stand in for her naked shots, and, in many instances, we can deduce that prosthetics may be in use. But this doesn’t distract from the explicit and frank nature with which the sex is depicted, always uncomfortable, never titillating, but surprisingly human. Whatever you may come to think of the film overall, this has to be one one the most realistic depictions of the sexual lives of teenagers committed to film. For a medium that’s often meant to reflect realities, whether they be past, present, or projected, cinematic sexuality often gets watered down for the sake of palatability.

During the first half of Clip, Jasna and her friends are often heard listening to poppy female vocals that extol female power and agency over sex, money, and men. “I never made it with you coz I’m in love with you,” croons one chanteuse while Jasna dances with Djordje at a party, meant to be another juxtaposition of the false reality fed to us though pop culture. And Jasna, in fact, seems obsessed with being filmed, her most animated moments during the filming of her clips, hoping that on film, reality will be transformed into an alluring sexiness. But as we watch these teens film themselves, this, of course, is hardly the case. When she visits a group home for terminally ill children (apparently for her future plans to become a pediatrician), the children cry out “Film me!” when they discover she as a smart phone. If anything, Milos shows us the powerful yearning we have for the transformative powers of film and the pallid illusion for which it really is.

Winner of the Tiger Award at this year’s Rotterdam Film Festival, Clip features a provoking performance from newcomer Isidora Simijonovic (and it’s unfortunate that her co-star, Vukasin Jansic often seems a little stiff, no pun intended). Hardly exploitative, Milos gives us a depiction of teens obsessed with sex, violence, the fetish of the digital age, and the dangerous complicity of victimization. Unlike 2010’s repellant, A Serbian Film, Milos’ Clip manages to transcend shock value and challenge us with something to say.

Reviewed on November 03 at the 2012 AFI Film Festival – NEW AUTEURS Programme.
102 Min

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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