Slovenia’s first LGBTQ-themed film, Consequences (or Posledice, 2018), is an arresting portrayal of what happens when institutional and judicial structures fail young gay men. The debut film by director Darko Štante asks: if men haphazardly placed in youth detention centers do not receive adequate support, what happens to the gay men in it? How do failing political structures further marginalise gay men, and leave them twice-removed from society?
In an interview for INTO, Štante states:
“I wanted to also put out the question of what gets those young people to come into the institution. And I like society to talk about it.”
Indeed, the film is largely inspired by Štante’s experiences as a social worker in Slovenia’s youth detention centers, where he noticed that the kids there were abandoned “by everyone … by [their] parents, [and] by society.” What is supposedly a place of reform, was merely another means by which children are alienated all over again. Adding to this, Štante also says: “[The teachers] are not in touch with today’s youth. They represent the system, and the system doesn’t work.”
In these statements, Štante highlights that kids are placed in detention centers simply because nobody wants to care for them. Workers employed in these centers are horrifically inept, thus merely feeding into the well-oiled cycle of alienation and delinquency. All around, support persistently collapses for the people who need it the most. In this regard, the system doesn’t work in a crude way that it actually does work, meticulously designed to outcast certain groups from society. Gay people are always familiar with alienation, but this alienation is doubly reinforced when delinquency becomes a politically inescapable circumstance.
In Consequences, 18-year-old Andrej (Matej Zemljic) is admitted into a youth detention center after a series of petty crimes and disorderly behaviour. His parents want nothing to do with him, so the judge’s decision to send Andrej to the center is a convenient cover-up for their abandonment. He quickly becomes acquainted with Zele (Timon Sturbej). Zele is a caricature of heteronormative hyper-masculinity: violent, misogynistic, and apathetic. He extorts money from other kids, and bashes their heads in if they do not comply. Of course, the teachers at the center are too exhausted to care. And Andrej, who starts off defending these kids from Zele’s gang, eventually gravitates towards him, particularly when Zele shows affection. Andrej joins Zele’s spectacle of hyper-masculinity, but Zemljic’s stunning performance consistently betrays Andrej’s reluctance to conform to such normative standards of gender.
However, as the film slowly reveals, Zele is only using Andrej for his physical strength to extort money from other kids. Caught in the vicious cycle of youth delinquency, romance becomes transactional. Nevertheless, the layered portrayal of acceptance is where Consequences shines. Andrej, a closeted young gay man, confuses Zele’s manipulative affection for a larger, societal acceptance of his sexuality. How could he not? He is trapped between a family who sees him as an afterthought, and a poorly equipped youth center where hyper-masculinity is necessary for survival. For Andrej, reciprocating Zele’s manipulative affection is the only way for him to express his sexuality — even if it comes at an ugly price of sacrificing his capability for tenderness. There are moments when we see Andrej sleeping in his old pre-school playground surrounded by children, or when he excitedly sneaks his beloved pet into the center. The film never stops reminding us that this is a teenager we are looking at. More specifically, Andrej is a gay teenager who has to trade his innocence in return for a warped illusion of acceptance.
In the film, the spectacle of hyper-masculinity as embodied by Zele is devastatingly conflated with gay acceptance, expression, and liberation. This is particularly so when there is nowhere else for these men to understand what real acceptance and love feels like. More than a classic tale of the bullied joining the bully for a sense of belonging, the film fleshes out the harrowing implications arising from the absence of gay role models, gay narratives, and gay spaces for gay men. Tenderness is lost, love is equated with violent transaction, and acceptance is a kind of brutal sacrifice of one’s humanity. Yet, the film also carefully threads the line between a vacuous representation of gay trauma, and an authentic portrayal of the lives of Slovenian gay men in youth detention centers. With an almost neorealist approach towards its subject matter, the film leans towards authenticity.
The ending scene of Consequences is either a completely melancholic affair, or a stunningly explosive subversion of the political structures which have imprisoned Andrej for most of his life. Hyper-masculinity is turned against itself, and it is both satisfyingly vindictive and sorrowful to watch. Either way, as Slovenia’s first gay film, Consequences is a triumphant breakthrough for queer narratives.