The European Film Festival Palic celebrated its 20th edition this summer, and Dazed flew over to spend the week in the small Serbian town near the Hungarian border. Decayed art-nouveau buildings hold traces of Palic's more decadent times as a spa getaway under the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Its idyllic resort-town feel intermingles with hints of the extreme – warnings not to swim in the lake because of a NATO bomb at the bottom; a 40%-proof welcome glass of rakia from the receptionist at check-in. But most memorable of this well-regarded and legendary festival is the committed idealism that drives the programming - in the face of market incentives the team haven't forgotten what cinema is for, and this filters down to the guests to feed a rare community atmosphere.
The festival, which screens entirely European content, isn't afraid to push limits, and this is especially so in the Young Spirit of Europe section, which is focused on innovation. The two most impressive shorts I caught here were both Swedish. Ninja Thyberg’s Pleasure won a prestigious Critics’ Week award at Cannes, and sees a female porn star’s career ambitions affronted by a colleague who’s agreed to the taxing endeavour of a double-anal scene. In its focus on what happens between the takes, it humanises the actress and her relationship to her work environment. Peter Modestij’s lushly shot, coldly elegant 102a: Couple Fucking sees a Stockholmer purchase a copulating couple at an auction to install in his living room – only to face their prolific post-coital smoking. Both directors were in town for the festival, and we sat down to chat cinematic sex.
NINJA THYBERG ON PLEASURE
Dazed Digital: What led you to make Pleasure?
Ninja Thyberg: I’ve been interested in porn as a topic for a long time. As a 16-year-old I was an angry anti-porn activist. Later I made porn myself, but independent feminist porn. With Pleasure, I wanted to portray the living people behind the porn stereotypes. I also wanted to examine social structures and mechanisms that extend far beyond the porn world.
DD: What interested you in undermining porn stereotypes in particular?
Ninja Thyberg: A lot of people see sex as something ”natural” - that we not only undress our clothes but also our culture when we go to bed with someone. I think that almost everything in our behaviour is something we learn from watching other people, or listening to stories of other people’s experiences. For a long time, porn has had the monopoly on showing explicit sex, and so it’s a big problem the gender roles are still extremely stereotypical. The reason our culture today is so obsessed with sex is because there are a lack of relevant references.
DD: What's next for you?
Ninja Thyberg: Right now I’m shooting another short, Hot Chicks. But I really want to take the next step and make a feature. It will be on the same topic as Pleasure, with a Swedish girl becoming a porn star in LA. I have two years left in film school (I’m studying directing at the Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts) and I have to finish that first.
PETER MODESTIJ ON 102a: COUPLE FUCKING
Dazed Digital: 102a: Couple Fucking shows commercialism run rampant and sex as a commodity. Is Stockholm like that?
Peter Modestij: Stockholm is far more conservative than London or other major cities. But it’s very caught up in status and vanity, so was a good spot to set the film, which is about the way we think we want things because other people do. Most of these are sold with the promise of sex, but won’t make you complete. We shot on 35mm as we wanted the look of a vintage sci-fi movie - films like Solaris and THX 1138 have had a deep impact on me. It’s a dark, twisted comedy that turns into horror. Some people early in the process thought it was too bleak. Maybe it is.
DD: What's next for you?
Peter Modestij: 102a: Couple Fucking is very conceptual and visual. The new material I’m writing now is way more character-oriented, naturalistic and less polished. The feature I'm ultimately really into making, Sub, deals with a teenage girl’s climate anxiety and inner drive towards nature. The gender pressure put on her as a girl just makes her reluctant to be human. I’m still dividing my time between being a writer-director and a writer who’s developing feature films for other directors to pay the rent. But it’s fun to work with others and nice to get out of your own head.
DD: Thoughts on your time in Palic?
Peter Modestij: It’s so wonderful to sit outside in the summer breeze with a beer in your hand and see your movie in the company of others. Loved it.