Sunday, October 19, 2008

"Guardian of the Frontier" film from Slovenia

Well, this review gives away the secrets so that if you want to see the thing fresh you should watch it then read the review. Anyways.

First of all, Guardian of the Frontier isn't about the decay of Yugoslavia into civil war. Whoever wrote that either had not seen the movie or had no understanding of it since it's established at the beginning that the civil war in Croatia is over.

The film revolves around three girls, college students from the city, taking a canoe trip down the river Kolpa, which is a border between Slovenia and Croatia, and coming across some very bad things. There's a serial killer in the area, for one, who has murdered a young woman who did exactly as they are doing. The characters are a middle of the road girl, a crazy and outspoken partying girl, and a conservative girl who is there because she's the middle of the roader's room mate in college.

So they float down the river. And they come across conservative people in the country. And it appears that someone is following them. But this isn't a kind of Deliverance II with Croatia cast as the people whose territory the city girls are intruding on and whose ways they're insulting. No, it's something much more than that.

To understand what exactly that is you have to be aware that Slovenia, the westernmost former Yugoslav republic was not involved in any of the fighting that engulfed Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia. It had a four day war after it declared its independence and that was that. But Croatia, next door, ethnically cleansed itself of non-Croats and descended into violence and outright Fascism as an official policy. The frontier that the river represents isn't just a frontier between two countries but a frontier between two totally different experiences: the peaceful experience of Slovenia and the post-violence and civil war experience of Croatia.

There's a sense of dread as after getting in trouble with their canoes and encountering traces of someone who's following them, particularly a shoe matching the shoe of the girl who was murdered, they go ashore on the Croat side and try to find shelter for the night. They do, and it turns out to be a nice encounter with an eccentric artist, but with a deadly serious underpinning. The sense of dread has its source in the ripping off of the veneer of civilization done during the civil war and the coming to the surface of the violent, inhuman, id forces motivating rape and murder on the one hand and forceful return to conservative values on the other. It's a door that opened that in the movie had not been totally closed after the fighting stopped.

But there's a surprise. The surprise is that they do encounter the "Guardian of the Frontier", the serial killer, who's also some sort of border guard, but he's a Slovene. They're captured by him, threatened with murder if they don't do what he tells them, taken into his vehicle, but then escape, or are let to escape. In the next village, that they flee to and call home from for someone to pick them up, there's a big festival, with dances and folk music, outdoor drinking and eating, and a political speaker. The speaker, who delivers his address from a podium draped with the Slovene flag, advocates not just Slovene for the Slovenians but turning one's back on progress and instead embracing traditional values, where women don't have parties but are proud to stay in the home and be mothers, etc... naming Ljubjiana, the capitol of Slovenia and the ways of the city as the enemy. It's not a speech that you can easily lampoon, it's more like a speech by Mussolini, something not to be taken lightly.

Later that night the speaker, the Guardian that is, and two young men who had been sitting with the girls and drinking, making nuisances of themselves, find the girl's tent. They're drunk and want to rape them. The Guardian eventually bargains down to just one girl going out there, all the while when they're surrounding the tent, and the conservative girl goes. Later after they're gone the two girls in the tent discover their love for one another. Their friend, actually the now ex-boyfriend of one of the girls, comes in the morning to pick them up and they go back home.

So far so good, but there're lots of layers of myth and fantasy interplaying with reality going through the whole thing, focussing mostly on the conservative girl. The events outside of the tent are denied by the two other girls as having happened. The frontier also expresses the conservative girl's psyche, which has been hurt by a traumatic event in her past that's created a tension similar to that between the id of both the Slovene and Croatian extremists and the urban, liberal Slovenes on the other.

Ultimately, the reactionary and violent impulses that they found both in Slovenia and in Croatia are revealed to exist back home as well, expressed in the reaction of the boyfriend to the two girl's newfound love for each other and an implicit rape of the conservative girl by one of the other's father on the two's trip to the station. And finally the love between the two girls falls apart, thereby questioning whether the response was one taken in relation to events surrounding them or something deeper and more genuine.

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