Guardian of the Frontier
GUARDIAN OF THE FRONTIER
Varuh Meje : Slovenia/Germany 2002 : Maja Weiss : 98 mins
Guardian of the Frontier sets itself up as a Slovenian, female update of Deliverance: a trio of young women embark on a canoeing expedition along the Kolpa river that divides their country from Croatia. Though the scenery is stunning, Weiss injects notes of foreboding – we’re unsure whether we’re about to witness a journey of sexual awakening or a Blair Witch-style horror movie. There are even moments that recall the Raymond Carver short story, ‘So much water so close to home’ that inspired the fishing-trip sequences in Altman’s Short Cuts: tantalising hints of something forbidden, perhaps terrible, lurking just below the river’s crystal surfaces, just behind the forest’s fecund leaves. Pia Zemljic, Tanja Potocnik and Iva Krajnc contribute strong, varied characterisations as Zana, Alja and Simona, and it’s easy to overlook a couple of editing glitches and even the too-loud, insistently ominous background music.
But, having established her mood, Weiss stumbles when she actually has to get down and tell her story. Events take an unexpected turn when the girls’ path crosses that of a sinister woodsman (Jonas Znidarsic) later revealed to be a xenophobic, right-wing politician fiercely opposed to immigration or what he sees as the dilution of his national identity. Alja responds to the demagogue on a sexual level, and Weiss takes this as a cue to indulge in some crass imagery and disastrous attempts at fantasy sequences.
Whatever political or psychological points the scriptwriters (Weiss, Brock Norman Brock and Zoran Hocevar) try to make are lost as the picture goes off the rails in a climactic sequence in which Alja offers herself up as a sacrificial virgin to the politican and his boozed-up henchmen. Or perhaps she doesn’t – there’s a lengthy coda showing the aftermath of the girls’ trip in which Alja’s version of events is questioned by Zana and Simona. Perhaps we’re supposed to see the film as a representation of Alja’s heightened view of events – this might at least go some way to explain the heavy-handedness of the second half. Well, perhaps, and perhaps the final image does end things on a note of enigmatic circularity. Or perhaps the film has just vanished up its own arse.
16th March, 2002
(seen 17th February, Cinestar Berlin – Berlin Film Festival)
by Neil Young
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