Artsploitation Films: Clip (2012) - Reviewed

Ever since Srdjan Spasojevic’s morally dubious and artistically debatable shock fest A Serbian Film exploded for good or ill across the Balkan silver screens, simulated or unsimulated explicit sexual content and/or digital video has become synonymous with modern Serbian cinema.  While many still harbor justifiable anger about the damage it did to the public image of the Serbian film industry, it opened many doors to other like-minded filmmakers pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable to tell a conventional narrative story.  

Among those to come in as the floodgates of provocative or even transgressive sexual freedom in the Serbian cinematic landscape was the debut of writer-director Maja Milos and her daring, dark and occasionally disturbing coming-of-age drama Clip.  Starring a then-14 year old Isidora Simojonivic in the role of Jasna, a precocious teenager on the cusp of her own sexual awakening, Clip follows the youngster through her humdrum daily existence of time at her shabby home with her dying father and family relatives encroaching on her personal space. 

Angry and rebellious, Jasna spends much of her time drowning in booze amid partying at the club with her friends when she isn’t taping the troublemaking with her cellular phone.  Along the way she meets Djole (Vukasin Jasnic), a young punk she falls madly in love with and is quick to satisfy any and every sexual demand he makes, fostering an increasingly degrading and physically abusive relationship between the two which becomes all encompassing.

While being openly sexually explicit and frequently unpleasant, first and foremost this is a coming-of-age drama about how abusive relationships and domestic violence can form under a specific environment and how slippery of a slope it can become.  Though graphic and quick to generate controversy within and outside of its homeland, much like A Serbian Film all of the sexual content is simulated through a variety of techniques, prosthetic effects, doubles and blocking. 

Mostly however, the film derives its sharp edges not so much from the sex as the strength of Simojonivic who won the Best Actress Award at the Vilnius International Film Festival.  The character of Jasna is a difficult one to sympathize with as she grows increasingly cold and nasty to her siblings yet Simojonivic makes her oddly relatable even her behavior grows more self-destructive with time.  Tasked with carrying the entire weight of the picture herself including but not limited to a number of difficult scenes throughout, she plays the role fearlessly and establishes herself in her first big screen role as a natural talent.

Visually the film, shot in 2.10:1 widescreen by Vladimir Simic, has that rough-around-the-edges shaky camerawork characteristic of the Dardennes and Lars Von Trier with frequent jump cuts piecing it all together.  Narratively it unfolds as an episodic day in the life of Jasna as she saunters intoxicated from one scenario to the next in between debauched sexual encounters with her boyfriend.  Taking the name from the cellular phone video format which Jasna records many of, Clip also often incorporates rough digital videos taken by our protagonist though admittedly the film has fewer clips in it than the flashbacks in All About Lily Chou-Chou, making the film’s title somewhat misleading.

Clip from the outset was a surefire lightning rod for controversy.  Explicit sexual content, particularly involving teenagers, is always going to raise more than a few eyebrows.  Just ask Larry Clark whose graphic 2002 film Ken Park to this day remains without distribution in either the US or the UK.  Curiously, while Clark’s film did finally come out on DVD in Russia, Clip on the other hand which doesn’t contain any actual unsimulated sex comparatively is currently banned in the country. 

What’s more, the dark and heavy coming-of-age drama isn’t exactly a new genre with more than a few examples of youth movies that highlight the uphill battles of being a teenager in a harsh and unforgiving world.  Still, Clip does hold value for the adventurous filmgoers not easily deterred by graphic sex or the undiluted unpleasantness of a dysfunctional and abusive romantic pairing.  If nothing else, see it for the powerful performance by Isidora Simojonivic who makes this character as believably real and relatable as possible.  A bumpy ride for the uninitiated but most rewarding for those who like their coming-of-age dramas a little spicier than usual.

- Andrew Kotwicki