As American film and TV has finally begun to embrace more joyful queer storylines over the last few years, the darkness of international queer cinema reflects a bleaker picture of the realities of gay life in the rest of the world. “Consequences,” which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, is the first Slovenian film to ever deal with LGBTQ themes, a fact that augurs the film’s unflinchingly dark outlook.
That’s not to say there isn’t much to enjoy in Darko Stante’s debut feature, which is impeccably crafted, and boosted by an electrifying performance from its smoldering young lead, the equal parts brooding and babyfaced Matej Zemljic. “Consequences” thrums with a vibrant current — propelled by a dizzying churn of cigarettes, cocaine, fistfights, and shirtless young men — until arriving at its predictably explosive conclusion. The film’s perspective may be austere, but its heart is defiantly exuberant.
The story centers on a wayward teen named Andrej (Zemljic), who is interred in a lawless youth detention center by his own parents. He’d been skipping school and getting into fights, but the final straw is an offscreen altercation with a girl who yells at him for not being able to get it up. (Stante never reveals how physical things got with her, and the precise limits of Andrej’s brutality remain shrouded in mystery for much of the film.) Eating at home after a judge sentences him to spend his weeks at an institution known only as “the Centre,” Andrej abruptly shoves his bowl of soup with startling aggression, weeping into his hands. The film’s Slovenian title blasts across the screen in bold red lettering: “Posledice” (“Consequences”).
Once at the Centre, he encounters a skinhead named Zele (Timon Sturbej), a surly wannabe gangster who looks even more like an Aryan youth than Andrej does. After befriending his affable roommate Luka (Lovro Zafred), Andrej quickly takes the measure of the Centre, sizing up the pecking order and surmising he’d rather be on top than on bottom.
There’s Niko (Gasper Markun), Zele’s redheaded sidekick with a gigantic chip on his shoulder, whose attempt to commandeer Andrej’s precious new pack of cigarettes invokes an outburst of that hidden rage. Taking note of this spunk, as well as his sculpted chest during a particularly charged benchpress showdown, Zele recruits Andrej into his cohort, and soon has the pretty boy newbie doing his dirty work.
Despite his teacher’s many warnings that “if you keep fucking up, there will be consequences,” Andrej and his new crew seem to skip out on group sessions and abscond for the weekends with relative ease. Whatever his unfeeling mother (Rosana Hribar) thinks they’re teaching him there, it’s not working out. When Andrej comes slinking home to visit his pet rat Fifa, she’s more worried about what the neighbors may think when the cops come calling than about her own son’s welfare.
Andrej is clearly drawn to Zele, and he quickly becomes the boy’s right hand, extorting money for him from the weaker boys with his menacing threats and mean right hook. Zele’s got a good racket going: If someone bums a hit off a joint, he charges them 30 Euro — that’s ten for the hit, plus interest. In their off-campus shenanigans, the boys pass joints and lines around like candy, jostling each other and basking in the glow of unbridled youth. There are girls around, though they’re mostly ornamental, and neither Zele or Andrej seem particularly interested in returning their affections. A drunken group make-out ends with Andrej’s hands shoved assertively down the back of Zele’s pants, and eventually the two fall into bed together.
It isn’t a totally unrequited situation, as Zele seems genuinely aroused during their semi-chaste but satisfyingly hot sex scene. But Zele is also a manipulative strongman who’s used to getting his way and makes bold statements like “We’re the mafia, aren’t we?” with no sense of irony. As the film progresses, Zele uses Andrej’s attraction to lure him into performing more and more dangerous errands for him, and the reward is almost never worth the risk.
At a tight 90 minutes, Stante, who wrote the script as well, keeps the narrative as spare as possible without sacrificing texture. He is aided by Rok Nagode’s gorgeous handheld cinematography, which is just shaky enough to get the message across while not being distracting. It all comes together with Sara Gjergek’s inspired editing; the brilliant spilled-soup-to-title-sequence moment is mirrored later, when Andrej abruptly shoves an unknown man off of him and seconds later is outside, vomiting all over himself without even bending over.
But the real discovery here is Zemljic, whose movie star good looks will no doubt please gay audiences (the ones who go for that sort of thing). He bears a resemblance to Harris Dickinson, and not just because the film is reminiscent of 2017’s “Beach Rats,” but there’s a repressed warmth and wealth of emotion bubbling below the surface that makes his character — and this film — endlessly more compelling. “Beach Rats” misfired by embracing internalized homophobia as its inevitable conclusion; “Consequences” embraces an almost brutal defiance of shame.
After the secret of Andrej’s sexuality comes out, his mother (unsurprisingly) tells him never to come home again. Tears streaming down his face, but his voice unwavering, he tells her: “I am what I am.” And you believe him.
Uncork’d Entertainment will release “Consequences” in a limited theatrical release including the Laemmle Monica in LA on August 2, with a VOD rollout on August 6.