A Film a Week - Afterparty / Afterparti

In his interview regarding the film’s world premiere at Belgrade International Film Festival, Afterparty writer-director Luka Bursać made a point that he was not criticizing social tendencies among the youth in Serbia particularly through the prism of Belgrade clubbing scene, but merely noting them. It sounds so smart and neutral, but it is also impossible. Usually, filmmaking is not a sociological research that can note something in an objective way, filmmakers have to have a standpoint, and try to point their views out the best way they can.

The choice to open the film with the archive material of building of New Belgrade, one of the biggest 20th century newly founded settlements in the world, is a filmaker’s decision. The choice of main characters, a bartender / wannabe-actor Mare (Rade Ćosić), his next-door neighbour / part-time love interest Tića (Jana Milosavljević) and his drug-dealing bouncer buddy Stefan “Chinese” (Nikola Šurbanović), that all live in the same block and work at the same nightclub is also a filmmaker’s decision. The choice of surroundings, drab gray buildings, lazy days and heated-up nights is also a filmmaker’s decision. The choice of music, bad techno, bad hip-hop and Serbian special called “turbo folk”, is also a filmmaker’s decision. The choice of clothing for both male and female characters and extras is also a filmmaker’s decision. The choice of finishing the film with blending images of the “old New Belgrade” and contemporary clubbing scene and nail the point with a pseudo-existential pseudo-philosophical quote about going places and getting there taken form a “turbo-folk” song is a filmmaker’s decision.

It should carry some weight as a standpoint. And it would in the hands of a more skilled director. But here, all of the decisions and choices seem just random, disjointed, futile or just plain weird, attempting and failing to shock for its own sake. Sometimes the whole thing is offensive, cringe-worthy and completely uncalled for.

Unlike much of the contemporary Serbian cinema, Afterparty has no visible problem with its production value. The film actually seems more expensive than it probably was, with its clubbing scenes with a bunch of extras and copyright-protected music. However, almost every theme party in the club looks and sounds pretty much the same, just like some Serbian trash music video clip, but that can also be a comment of sorts. What gets lost in there is the character of the club owner Gagi, played by usually terrific Dragan Jovanović who is kinda boorish, but neither intimidating (as a character like that should be) nor funny (as the actor’s persona usually is), and, well, not even seen clearly because of the dimmed lights.

What the film lacks is the basic idea what to do outside of the club. We have some outlines of the story about Mare, his acting career, his on-again-off-again hooking up with Tića and his parents played by mismatched duo of late 80’s TV actors Slobodan Beštić and Lidija Vukićević, which is one of the rare touches of inspiration, sadly not developed into something more meaningful. We know a little bit about Chinese, his business and his family situation and sometimes we even see another of their buddies called Wig (Vladimir Gvojić) who is a comic relief of sorts. But it goes nowhere and takes a lot of time to get there. The payoff and its pseudo-funny punchline in the end is too weak and not worth the bother to see the whole film.

Instead, we get a casual bashing of another Serbian film, Stevan Filipović’s Skinning completely out of the blue, a casino robbery without any sort of explanation, some forced politically incorrect humour, a really bad porn moment and a fine share of wtf moments. How come an actor cannot tell the difference between a globally popular TV series and its bad gay porn parody just by its title? How come the producers of the same gay porn offer him a girl for a test shooting? Why does every apartment look exactly the same with the same outdated furniture? Why does a Spanish tourist speak English with a heavy Balkans accent? We could let any one or two of those things slide, but the sheer amount of them makes the case against the film.

Even if we dismiss all of that simply as Bursać’s weird sense of humour, there are some undertones of misogyny that cannot be overlooked. Up until one particularly disturbing scene, Afterparty can go under the radar as a misjudged, undercooked, weak mixture of “New Belgrade depression movies” from the beginning of millennium and movies about over-sexed aimless youth a la Clip. After that, it can be seen just as a vile little film. Sometimes not taking stand is simply not an option. And not trying to tell anything can be considered talking trash. Unlike his brave and prvocative diptich social realist drama / science fiction debut Blackness (Tmina, 2013), Afterparty is a huge miss.

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