Content Note: This article contains discussion of cyber-bullying, bullying, sexual abuse.
“Smile,” a man says to us. “Smile,” he says again, with heartfelt earnestness. A sentimental piano score accompanies these words, and in the solemn times we currently live in, the purity of this segment packs a punch, like medicine for the soul. The man switches the front-facing camera to the rear, and we see a girl, Aless (Alessia Capparelli), sitting alone. She responds impassively: “What should I say?” “The truth,” the man replies.
These shots open Miro Drobný’s 2019 anthology film Who’s Next? (Kto je ďalší?), which shines a light on the dangers associated with our modern use of the internet. Drobný splits the film into three short sections, each dealing with a separate theme, the first being cyber-bullying.
#StandUp follows Aless’ reconditioning as she courageously speaks in front of a packed auditorium, reflecting on her experiences at school. The man introduced to us at the start of the film (Peter Brajerčík) supports Aless on stage, revealing that he used to be a bully himself. He explains that he was the only one in his class who came from a village, and hence wanted to fit in, a confession which is cruelly mocked by a teen (Ivan Beňko): “The only one from a village? You should have stayed there then, what are you doing here?”
This is one of the many thoughtless remarks spoken by those in the auditorium, and Drobný constructs this pseudo-documentary scenario to emphasise just how minor an issue many regard bullying to be. Drobný’s decision to portray certain audience members with a blatant lack of self-awareness may appear to some as contrived and perhaps even uninspired, yet this would be to miss the point entirely. Drobný’s setting of this scenario reveals how the internet can facilitate this type of bullying – nasty comments are spoken with the insurance of anonymity. The packed auditorium provides a means for anyone to say what they want, when they want, without being singled out. Similarly, one can find vile and insensitive comments on news sites, social media, and tribute pages, all arranged under the pseudonym of a simple username.
“[Drobný] manages to capture the incomprehensibility of certain aspects of internet culture by transposing them into real-life situations.”
What is especially clever about Drobný’s film is that he manages to capture the incomprehensibility of certain aspects of internet culture by transposing them into real-life situations, creating moments that verge on the bizarre. For instance, in the subsequent part, #Profit, we follow actual rooftoppers Angela Nikolau, Vitaliy Raskalov and Vadim Makhorov who record and capture their exploits on high-rises and tall structures. Following a fatality at a nuclear facility in Bohunice, Slovakia, we see the remaining climbers at a gallery promoting their work. They pose with fans, continuing to play the role of their constructed internet personalities, until we see them stand in front of the shots taken in Bohunice. The selfie that resulted in the death of their colleague is on full display, and it is nothing but noise, a shot of pure nothingness.
#Profit forces the audience to consider the very real consequences of these so-called ‘killfies’. Drobný’s surreal rendering of the auditorium and gallery effectively unveil just how easily the internet can lead to a loss of morality and rationality.
The third and final part of the film, C, pushes the limits of believability to create a scenario that simultaneously addresses two prevalent issues: sextortion, and child sexual abuse in religion. Drobný alternates between a priest (Brian Caspe) giving a sermon and his daughter (Anita Sonnberger) recording a video of herself with the aid of flashcards. The recording begins with a light-hearted story of her meeting a friend online, but soon takes a sinister tone as she reveals that the friend she confided in is actually a man, who blackmailed her into performing sexual acts on camera.
#Voiceless bears many of the hallmarks of good filmmaking – tension is built slowly, while providing the audience with enough plot details to stay invested. Particularly impressive is how Drobný manages to intertwine two disparate issues into a cohesive storyline, encouraging the audience to consider whether the internet is really just a modern facilitator of older forms of abuse: “This is a new religion,” a church attendee (Martin Kubačák) says in the film, as he waves a computer tablet in his hand.
“The ongoing pandemic has encouraged and at times even forced us to connect with others solely through a graphical interface.”
Yet, it is arguably the opening and closing shots of #Voiceless that speak directly to our current relationship with the internet – window after window, video logs of individuals from across the world appear on the screen, and it is one of these windows that leads us to our protagonist. The ongoing pandemic has encouraged and at times even forced us to connect with others solely through a graphical interface, whether that be for socialising, education, or work. Drobný encourages us to look beyond what we see, to acknowledge the human being, for the screen can only say so much about an individual. It is up to us to properly fill the void.
Who’s Next? is an important film, whose relevance will likely grow as we move into the new year. It is most effective when the film has its audience in mind, creating moments that speak to us, rather than at us. What Drobný has created is something I do not think I have ever attributed to a film of this sort – it is educational, yes, but it is also a work of art.
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