A murder-filled erotic and excessive example of Yugoslav camp: “Kill Me Gently” at the 2024 goEast Festival of Central and Eastern European Film3 min read

 In Review, Reviews, Southeastern Europe
Slovenian direct Boštjan Hladnik is largely known for his provocative and erotic films, a few of which were banned in some Yugoslav republics. His 1979 comedy Kill Me Gently (Slov.: Ubij me nezno), screened as part of the 2024 GoEast Film Festival’s Symposium: The Other Queers, is a highlight of his oeuvre. 

A parody on the violent and sex-filled pulp fiction stories of the 1970s, Kill Me Gently follows a sprightly older woman (Duša Počkaj) who makes a living translating this genre in her lavish seaside villa. One day, married couple Julija and David arrive, along with Adam (Igor Sambor), Julija’s younger lover, to stay with their “Aunt.” The familial relationships, however, are unclear — both Julija and David refer to the elderly woman as “Aunt.” Soon after, the Aunt’s editor Cita arrives, immediately becoming attracted to Adam. A love quadruple emerges, with the subsequent solution being for everyone to sleep with everyone (minus the Aunt who uses her power as host to allow Adam some rest) in a show of free love. However, before long, each member of the household, along with some interlopers, begins to die in increasingly bizarre ways, from succumbing to a poisonous waterlily to being eaten alive by piranhas. 

The film is disconnected and sporadic, jumping from one scene to another with only a little thread connecting everything together. It is characteristic of a dream — indeed, the film’s warm tones and fuzziness highlights this aspect — which all comes together at the film’s conclusion when it is revealed the Aunt, while indeed a translator of pulp fiction, does not live by the sea nor has a rich social life, but instead imagines herself in these scenarios while translating from her noisy and cramped Yugoslav apartment. 

The entire film is absurdist and Hladnik takes great joy in creating over-the-top scenarios for his characters to partake in. For example, David, now an academic studying the intelligence of meat-eating plants, was once a lobster trainer. The Aunt, a fan of fast driving and drinking, ends up in a disco dance party with scores of attractive, young bikers. Everything is excess upon excess, with nods to current Western politics and pop culture (the Aunt is a huge fan of John Travolta). Another aspect of the film’s excess is portrayed via on-screen animals. Tortoises litter the ground in a number of scenes, while the camera lingers on a menagerie of other animals during scene changes. 

While the comedic aspects and lush imagery of the film are successful in parodying pulp fiction, Hladnik’s portrayal of queer relationships and free love is lacking in the sense that everything is seen very much from the male gaze, even though it is the Aunt who is the creator of her own fantasies. While it is implied that David and Adam have sex (a light flirtation is shown on-screen), nothing is explicitly depicted. This is in contrast to the slow-shots of Julia and Cita, who feature in the most explicit sex-scene and who are given much more screen-time. While still subversive for its time and locale, today’s audience may wish there was a little more equality between the sexes, particularly given the Aunt’s statement towards the end that “One’s gender isn’t important anymore.” 

While certainly not a film that will appeal to all audiences, fans of Western cult classics like Rocky Horror Picture Show would be well advised to expand their purview with this example of camp from the East. 

Feature Image: Kill Me Gently
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