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The Slovenian film Guardian of the Frontier is an exceedingly
strange movie. On the surface, its story about three beautiful young women facing possible
menace on a canoe trip sounds like a female version of John Boormans Deliverance.
The high production values of Maja Weiss first feature film is misleading however
because outside of its gorgeous visuals, Guardian of the Frontier feels like
something Russ Meyer (Beyond
the Valley of the Dolls) could have directed or Roger Corman (Death
Race 2000) could have produced. Typical of B-movies, Guardian sports
retrograde music by Stewart Dunlop that recalls everything from The
Good, The Bad, and The Ugly to Friday
the 13th. The movie has nudity verging on the gratuitous as two of the
women opt to paddle down the river Kolpa topless, and they later engage in a lesbian
tryst. A la Meyer, Weiss tosses in outrageous phallic symbols (an oar masquerading as a
penis silhouette, a fishing rod held from the crotch, and long-bodied fish intercut with
the lower torsos of the women swimming) and she even trots out a blithering fascist
caricature. Heavy-handed use of ominous music and a high-pitched, tone verging on the
absurd add to the B-movie atmosphere.
What is unlike a B-movie is the look. Director of photography Bojan Kastelic captures all the sumptuous greenery, the mist over early morning water, and natures own cobblestone streets immersed below. The actresses are no less beautiful. Pia Zemljic plays ana, a bold, dark-haired provocateur sporting a nose-ring. Tanja Potocnik is her more level-headed and red-headed best friend, Alja. Iva Kranjnc fills out the trio as blond, sunny, cute Simona. The tension among the friends comes from anas inability to abide Simonas innocence, which ana sees as an act, and from anas lusting after Alja, who has a boyfriend, Medo (Gorazd ilavec). As the three college students on break begin their canoe trip, Weiss engages in over-the-top foreshadowing portentous music, shots of graves and a spooky old man, hunters rifles going off and on the way to the river, the women hear about a homicidal rapist on the loose in the woods.
Weiss mixes in not-so-subtle political themes, primarily pitting open-minded progressiveness against intolerant conservatism. The former is represented by nose-ringed ana, who studies journalism, and tattooed Alja, who studies literature, and the latter by clean-cut Simona, who studies economics, and the Guardian of the Frontier (Jonas nidaric), a homophobic and xenophobic politician who espouses nationalism in effect, responsible media and art vs. reductive number-crunching and political corruption.
While ana and Alja make friends with Croats and toast to crossing borders, Simona flees. She finds the Guardian alluring even as he announces, "Progress is destroying the world," and scapegoats homosexuals and foreigners as immoral. This would all feel ridiculously pompous if Weiss tone didnt imply the movie is really a darkly comic genre masquerade on the level of Starship Troopers and if ana and Alja were not such disagreeable characters.
Not all of Weiss moves are so heavy-handed. Early on, ana swims across the Slovenia-Croatia border, demonstrating the abstractness of human-imposed boundaries with a simple gesture that does not call undue attention to itself. Only belatedly does it become clear that a sandal that could belong to either a rape victim or a refugee acts as a metaphor that equates the two. Alas, Weiss flounders near the end, opting for unsatisfying ambiguity over a more consistent and coherent emotional resolution. Guardian of the Frontier is an otherwise remarkable and refreshingly unusual film.
- George Wu