September 22, 2018
TIFF Review: ‘Consequences’ is an Expertly Constructed Slovenian Drama with a Devastating Finale
Andrej (Matej Zemljic) is an eighteen-year-old abuser. He’s stopped going to school, started getting into fights, disrespects his parents, and most recently hit a teen after she berated him for his not wanting sex. It’s an escalating series of incidents that no one is willing to deal with anymore, so they decide to let a judge handle him instead. The verdict: a detention center for troubled youths with 24/7 security, education, workshops, and free weekends (if you don’t do something to lose those days too). Like any kid his age, Andrej fears what this means while turning the blame onto those who “gave up” on him when he’s the one who gave up first. Either this place will give him structure or it’ll just make him worse.
The title of the film is therefore quite apt. Darko Stante’s Consequences not only throws the word around as a means to stop the bleeding (so to speak), but it also makes good on that promise. What you may not expect, however, is how this punishment will be dolled out or who it will be inflicted upon. The reason stems in large part to just how hollow “consequences” can conceptually prove depending on the action backing it up. To see the men in charge of this detention center is to see men who are afraid of the much larger and meaner boys under their supervision. Not even Andrej’s parents can provide a united front of authority as Dad (Dejan Spasic) is always undermining Mom’s (Rosana Hribar) resolve.
All any of them can truly do is threaten to call the police and that’s something that can be postponed simply by running away. And once Andrej starts gravitating away from the pushovers (Lovro Zafred’s Luka) and towards the psychopaths (Timon Sturbej’s Zele and his lackey in Gasper Markun’s Niko), that’s exactly what he does. What choice does he have, though? He can’t go home after providing his parents their own consequences for calling the cops: never going back. He can’t just stay at the center and show weakness towards Zele’s uncompromising crew either. The only chance Andrej has for survival now that he’s given up on a future through school is to stick with the bad eggs, have some fun, and perhaps make a few ill-gotten bucks.
It’s a path that will earn its own consequences removed from law and order (or the false assumption of it set-up by what’s probably a for-profit center that doesn’t necessarily care about what happens to the kids within). Hanging out with Zele means shaking down people who owe him money. It means smoking dope and snorting coke until he’s too blitzed to do anything but stumble back to his room and prove rehabilitation is out of the question. Enemies on the outside are therefore made. The unspoken rules within the center’s walls of not being a rat don’t apply when you’re roughing up strangers in public locales. The payback for that is more than losing a weekend and if Andrej doesn’t join, Zele will come for him instead.
Stante doesn’t stop at delinquency, though. This would have been a viable option considering everything he throws at Andrej, but doing so sticks to a script too many have already followed. The additional weight therefore comes on the back of a secret we infer early on about Andrej — one that makes him vulnerable and in turn overly aggressive as a means to deflect focus. It’s also something Zele is more than willing to exploit in a way that only someone like he could. If Andrej is an abuser, Zele is a user. He will use his wildness to intimidate and recruit those who are stronger than him and more incentivized to do his dirty work. He knows exactly what Andrej wants and he wields it with purpose.
We must then wonder when Andrej will become wise to this game and stop it. Doing so would need to be handled delicately because losing Zele as an ally ensures he becomes an enemy. And while Andrej could easily take him man-to-man, retribution on his behalf and the center’s would be swift and punishing. Stante knows this and expertly constructs the film to show that while his lead has the muscles and temper to wreak havoc, his heart still stops him from going too far. The only thing that could potentially push him over the top is his secret because it’s a doozy with ramifications traveling well beyond two teens playing chicken. It’s why Andrej is here in the first place, incarceration a better alternative to societal exile.
One may grow impatient with the story due to its willingness to never truly deliver what these characters deserve. Looking back now, however, I see this was an intentional device to render the climactic sequence of events as dynamically unforgettable as it proves. You wonder for so long when the other shoe will drop that you become unprepared for the moment. Stante hits us with a combination of fists as he destroys the happiness he systematically created for Andrej in a swiftly brutal five-minute assault possessing as much emotional resonance as violent carnage. And despite the characters facing their respective music, Stante exposes something much bigger than a few teens. His film depicts the psychological consequences of prejudice upon victims and assailants alike.
The finale is one of the most devastating scenes of the year thanks in large part to Zemljic’s performance. He’s great throughout as his secret forces him to become two people at once, but his range of emotions during the climax is second to none. From tearful shame to blackout rage, he moves from zero to sixty and back in an instant. By the end it’s the person he risked giving his heart to that pushes him to the point of no return. Because no matter what happened — jail, detention, etc. — there was always a finish line. Eventually he’d be free to try again within a world he could hope had changed. With one click of a button, however, that hope is dashed. With one click Andrej loses everything.
Consequences premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.