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Varuh Meje / Guardian of the Frontier (2001)

Three girls, two canoes and one river. Maja Weiss's début movie has been explicitly marketed as a female Deliverance, sophisticated urbanites running up against menacing yokels in need only of a duelling banjo or two. But Varuh meje could equally be accounted a Slovenian Boys Don't Cry, dissecting small-town nationalism and intolerance with overtones far beyond the confines of the small Alpine republic.

The river in question is the Kolpa, which, when it's not providing Ljubljana students with a canoeing holiday, moonlights as a portion of the border between Slovenia and Croatia. It wouldn't be a trip into the woods without a ghost story or two, and needless to say, the local police are currently engaged in a murder hunt after a young woman's shoe turned up in the river. The trio weave themselves a tale of psychotic veterans of the war in Croatia, still hiding out in the hills.

Red-haired Alja (Tanja Potočnik) spends much of the trip being seduced by her friend Žana (Pia Zemljič) and, it has to be said, not putting up too much resistance. (Žana, who's something of a young Salma Hayek, evidently has to be bisexual; she's the one with the nose ring, after all.)

Both are convinced their winsome friend Simona (Iva Krajnc) is a virgin, albeit the kind of virgin who makes sheep's eyes at every male from Alja's father to a taciturn fisherman she meets when she's collecting water. If you still haven't twigged what she thinks of the fisherman, keep an eye out for the way he holds his catch when he kills it and the cross-cuts between the huntsman and a stag.

Around the campfire, Žana's already related the legend of the sacrificial virgins who used to be offered up to the King of the Forest roundabouts. When they come across the matching shoe to the one found by the police, they land their canoes on the forbidden Croatian side and try to seek help.

Slovenia was always the most developed republic in the former Yugoslavia, and the first to openly announce its desire to secede from the federation in the late 1980s. Some, indeed, would blame the Slovenian president at the time, Milan Kučan, for opening the whole damned can of worms. Slovenian nationalism, then and now, has contained an undercurrent of superiority to Yugoslavia's other peoples.

The girls mock it with an impromptu rendition of Djevojka sa sela (Village girl), one of the biggest hits from the Croatian pop star Severina, who's sold out a Slovenian stadium or two in her time. Weiss sets up the Croatian village they come across as a deft red herring; despite the suspicious, witch-like old peasant ladies, the girls end up spending a congenial, wine-fuelled evening with the retired star of a Yugoslavian soap opera, Where The Wild Boars Go.

The real danger's back on the Slovenian side, where they're trapped by Simona's gun-toting fisherman. He's on the lookout for refugees supposed to have been making the border crossing, but is no more hospitable to fashionable city girls, least of all Žana's kind. They manage to escape from his car when he stops to shoot the stag; aspiring photojournalist Žana takes a snapshot of the woman's shoe left unattended in the boot. (I now make this three shoes, but shall suspend my disbelief.)

Heading for the nearest settlement to inform the police, they come across a village celebration with all the circle dances in national costume for which a Slovenian traditionalist could wish. With so much cheap folk music about, it would come as no surprise to any ex-Yugoslavian when the evening turns out to be an excuse for a political rally addressed, at a podium draped with the Slovenian flag, by none other than Simona's friend the fisherman.

"No, a festival."

Slovenia likes to model itself on Austria and Switzerland, rather than align itself with those troublesome Balkan countries to the south. With his sharp haircut and ever so slightly lupine features, any resemblance between the politico and Austrian right-winger Jörg Haider is surely intentional. Any resemblance between the politico and disgraced British game show host Angus Deayton is, just as surely, not.

It doesn't take a Slovene to have heard his speech before. His Slovenia-for-the-Slovenes village fundamentalism, railing against foreign freeloaders and the loose morals of the city, would sound equally, depressingly familiar on the other side of the Kolpa, the other side of the Alps, or the other side of the Adriatic. And we're not out of Europe yet. This, by his own account, is the Guardian of the Frontier.

His message that girls should not behave like boys nor mothers leave the home is taken up with enthusiasm by two local men who set their caps at Alja, Žana and Simona. The first two reject their advances; Simona, who has become more and more perturbed by Alja and Žana's developing relationship, is not entirely unconvinced. Weiss leaves the audience in some doubt as to the reality of the dream-like sequence in the woods which follows; but there's a reason why Simona has changed into that white peasant's gown.

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