Set in a youth correctional facility, Slovenian director Darke Štante’s debut feature Consequences follows 17-year-old delinquent Andrej (Matej Zemljic) as he deals with his burgeoning sexuality and tries to survive his destructive surroundings.
Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge caught up with Darke for an in-depth discussion about the film, the state of masculinity, working in a youth facility, casting in Slovenia, the treatment of homosexuals, and much more.
Q: I believe you worked in a youth facility in the past. Can you tell us about that experience and what inspired you to use it as a setting for this film?
A: Yes, it’s true. I actually still work in a youth facility, but just two or three times a week.
My inspiration for Consequences came from that job. I saw the daily routine, the endless conversations between the kids and my colleagues, the employees who eventually stopped caring etc. There are still outdated educational approaches in use which don’t consider the depth of the emotional distress and the reasons for some behavioural disorders. Sometimes it was quite frightening hear the points of view some of my colleagues had on several topics, particularly about raising children and their perception of what is ‘normal’.
Along with the escalation of intolerance in Slovenia and our neighbour countries, I decided make a film about all this. I simply thought someone from the inner circle has to tell the story from the other side in a more humanistic way. Someone who knew a little bit more about the issues surrounding these kids – how they feel and the emotional distress of growing up without feeling free to open up your mind. How do you live in a world of depreciating values where you can’t trust society, your friends or even your parents?
Q: The shape and direction of modern masculinity is a big talking point at the moment, especially with figures like Jordan Peterson entering the fray. What did you want to explore about the state of masculinity?
A: Masculinity plays a big role in a boy’s upbringing. I think we are living in times where the perception of masculinity is changing very fast. Perhaps so fast that even boys and girls can’t process it all.
There is a gap between what society tells you in a formal way and what happens in everyday life. So, theoretically, in a postmodern way almost anything goes and everything is acceptable, but in reality we are still living in a world of old rules and a strict hierarchy.
I wanted to explore how today’s youth are facing the changing perceptions of masculinity. I asked myself what would happen if someone in a youth facility like this would fall in love with another inmate. In a quite traditional environment, what could be the consequences of finding out that someone you know is gay?
Q: There are many interesting hierarchies at play in the film, but I was intrigued by the lack of responsible influence from the family unit and the youth correction facility. Are these problems you have observed in your work?
A: Yes. In my opinion, the family is the most important unit in a young person’s life. If the family gives up on their child’s wellbeing, then we see usually start to see things go wrong.
It is normal for the parents’ influence to diminish slightly in a certain phase [usually adolescence] of a young person’s life. But they still have to stay by them, keep an eye on them and give them emotional support. If they stop doing it, they cut the ties and consequences will surely show up in one or another way.
Youth correctional facilities are outdated in Slovenia. They don’t serve their purpose. The employees are exhausted, demotivated and mostly losing hope that things will get better. So, ultimately, they are not much help to the youth. Even if they try to help, they don’t have the power to do so. Their influence, in my opinion, is minimal or almost non-existent.
Q: It’s fascinating how we see homosexual acts taking place in the film, but no one ever addresses it or dares to speak about it. Why was that?
A: To me, it was important to not problematise homosexuality in a common way. I wanted to show it as normal as heterosexuality. The fact that someone is gay shouldn’t change the way we see his struggles. With a few small tweaks, the same story could be told with a hetero guy who falls in love with a problematic girl. That was the one thing.
The other was that I wanted to show the hierarchies that are present in youth correctional facilities. If the non-formal leader accepts some way of behaviour, then it also becomes acceptable for the others. We see how someone who is totally homophobic takes his friend’s homosexual acts as acceptable just because he sees something that he can exploit for his own benefit. That’s the way neoliberalism works – anything goes as long as someone profits from it.
Q: Without wanting to give anything away, the film has a rather blunt and bloody ending. Was this a reflection of the treatment of homosexuals in Slovenia and around the world more generally?
A: Not necessarily. It’s a reflection of the treatment of all the vulnerable population. You know, Consequences is about betrayal on all levels. It’s not just about the intimate sphere between two people. It’s about the collapse of the family, the system and friendship.
We live in a world that takes advantage of everyone it can benefit from. From that perspective, the end has got to be bloody. It can be no other way. One of the main issues in the world today is that you can mistreat someone, just to a certain degree. I think the suppressed ones are nearly at the limit of what they can take from the burdens of neoliberalism. It’s a big lie.
We live in a world where they tell you that you are free, but in reality you are free just as long as you live by the rules of the leaders. It is the same is with homosexuality. It’s ok to be gay just as long as the society doesn’t feel threatened.
Slovenia is, in my opinion, not as open or tolerate as it is presented in the media. Slovenia follows most international initiatives concerning human rights, LGBT rights, gender quality etc. But in reality we are a divided nation. Ljubljana (our capital) and some other urban points are quite liberal on these issues. But on the outskirts of bigger towns, there is a sense of uneasy when you approach the themes of equality, LGBT etc.
Q: What was the casting process like for the film?
A: The casting process was very hard for me. First, it was the age of the characters. In a small country, like Slovenia, it’s not so easy to get a number of actors that age [18-25] who would be willing to do a gay character. And even if someone was interested in such a role, he still had to reflect my vision of the character.
To me, the appearance of the actor was equally as important as their acting skills. After our first audition, I knew it would be almost impossible to get an amateur actor who would act authentically and with no hesitations. So I focused on the Slovenian Academy for Theatre, Radio, Film and Television. Some of the young actors I already knew, others I saw in short films or theatre productions.
First, I didn’t cast them in specific roles. They all went through a specific process of trying all the main roles. I didn’t want them to do any of the more explicit scenes. I just wanted to feel the energy they were releasing in the different roles. I knew Matej Zemljic, the main actor, from before because we worked together on another project. When I first called him in on the audition, I wasn’t sure which role he could take. He thought he would be a good Luka (the roommate of Andrej). But after just a few exercises, I knew he was the one for Andrej. He still had to do all the other roles, just in case there was a surprise performances by one of the other actors.
Once the casting of the gay characters was over, I thought it would start to get easier – but it didn’t. For me it was even harder to cast all the other characters.
In our country there are a lot of great theatre actors, but they are not used to working in front of the camera. After every audition, I was surprised – and slightly afraid – of how many established actors cannot function on the screen. So, for me, it was probably more difficult to cast all the other parts. I had a great casting agent who was really helpful in that second part of the process.
Q: All the lead actors do a fine job and some capture an almost ape-ish body language. How did you work with the actors to bring out these performances?
A: Generally, I work in accordance with elements of the Stanislavsky system. I also use some techniques from Judith Weston and do lots of improvisations. We had lots of rehearsals. We started working approximatively eight months before shooting. I was working with the actors in groups, as well as individually.
For their physically appearance, we were doing lots of improvisations. One of them was also acting like an ape – maybe that’s why some of them capture this ape-ish body language. We were also going through the script and talking about everything with everybody. At the end, every one of the lead actors knew every aspect of their character. They were writing biographies of their characters and knew aspects of their character’s life you would never sense – even after you have seen the film.
But sometimes we were just hanging around and talking about everyday stuff. It helped us get used to each other and develop a level of trust – and that is most important. If the actors trust you, you have won. You just have to take care that you don’t betray their trust. At the end, I must say they have done a really great job.
Q: I have to ask about the rat Andrej keeps called Fifa. He seems to be the only light of innocence and connection in Andrej’s life.
A: Fifa is the only being that doesn’t betray Andrej – it is his sunshine. On another level, Fifa also reflects Andrej. Some people are afraid of rats because sometimes they appear frightening, but if they are properly treated and nurtured they are gentle and vulnerable beings.
Q: What does it mean to you for the film to show at the BFI London Film Festival?
A: First, I am honoured that my film was accepted at the BFI London Film Festival. It means a lot to me to be presented on such a respected and important film festival. I was quite excited when I heard that my film will be shown at the BFI London Film Festival. It will give the opportunity to the audience to see how things are going on in Slovenia, how a Slovenian director deals with such a universal theme.
I’m curious how the audience will respond to it. Will it give them a new perspective on the themes we’re talking about? Mostly it gives me the opportunity to show my film to an audience which probably doesn’t know much about Slovenia and our system. So maybe it will bring up some questions about differences among EU countries and broader values that connect us all in some ways.
Q: What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
A: I hope the audiences will connect with the film and its themes. I will be glad if it opens up questions about the acceptance of every human-being, not just in a general way, but in reality. I hope it will widen conversations about the role of parents and social institutions in the lives of young people who are searching for their place in this world.
Last but not least, I hope after seeing this film people in Slovenia will better understand why homosexuals are not different than any other human-being.